As details trickle out about who would gain and who would lose under the federal tax overhaul bill approved by Congress this week, Representative Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown) and Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence) are renewing their call for legislation requiring presidential candidates to release their personal tax returns in order to be listed on the Rhode Island ballot.
The two state lawmakers say Americans have the right to know what conflicts of interest their president may have and whether he’s substantially benefiting more than other taxpayers from a tax bill he is pushing for and signing.
President Donald Trump is the only president – and the only major party presidential candidate – in the last 40 years to refuse to publicly release his tax return.
“Especially considering his vast real estate holdings and the wide reach of his family’s companies and assets, President Trump’s lack of transparency raises significant questions about how he may be personally benefiting from the law he plans to sign,” said Goldin. “We are left questioning every carve-out for businesses, like those for real estate holdings and allowing the PGA to maintain its nonprofit status, and wondering what his personal benefit is going to be.”
“The federal bill lowers taxes for pass-through businesses, estate taxes and high earners, all of which we know would benefit Trump and billionaires like him,” added Tanzi. “It further erodes public confidence in the process and leads us to question the integrity of current executive and congressional leadership when we know that the president is influencing this process, but we are prohibited from knowing just how much it will enrich him personally. Our legislation is a way to provide transparency and ensure that the public can see what the president’s personal benefits would be under any tax changes he may influence and sign.”
When the 2018 legislative session begins in January, Senator Goldin and Representative Tanzi plan to reintroduce their legislation (2017-S 0091, 2017-H 5400) requiring all candidates for United States president and vice president to file copies of their last five years of federal income tax returns with the state Board of Elections no later than 50 days prior to the general election in order to appear on the Rhode Island ballot.
Under the proposed legislation, the Board of Elections would be required to redact certain information after consulting with the state tax administrator and director of revenue, and then to post the return on the Board of Elections website.
Unlike members of Congress, the president is exempt from many conflict-of-interest laws. Except President Trump, every president since Richard Nixon has voluntarily released his tax returns. Tax returns provide information about a candidate’s financial ties to foreign businesses and governments, business arrangements, and other potential conflicts of interest.
While it is widely known that President Trump has done business in many countries with people and firms linked to foreign governments, without his tax returns, it’s impossible to understand the scope of those deals and how they might affect his decisions in office. Additionally, tax documents from 1995 showed that he reported a $916 million loss, which tax experts say could have been used to avoid paying any federal income tax for up to 18 years.