Donald Trump hasn't even been sworn in as president yet, but a New York Democrat already wants to make his reelection more painful.
State senator Brad Hoylman's T.R.U.M.P. (Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public) Act, would force candidates for president to release five years of tax returns to the New York State board of elections no later than 50 days before the general election, which would in turn redact personal information and make the returns public. Failure to comply with the legislation should it become law would prohibit the state's electors from voting for that candidate and the candidate's name would not appear on the New York state ballot.
"I think this is model legislation for legislatures across the country," Hoylman told BuzzFeed News, saying that Trump flouted decades of established political tradition in refusing to release his taxes. "Voters were denied an important perspective on the candidate's potential conflicts of interests as well as their financial well-being and how much he gave to charity."
A document obtained by BuzzFeed News that details "talking points" on the bill includes a bipartisan list of presidential candidates who released their taxes including Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Mike Pence, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and states: "If we’ve learned anything from this last election cycle, it’s that the political norms we take for granted in America can be shattered in an instant if they aren’t enshrined in law."
During the campaign, news reports revealed that Trump did not always follow-through on his pledges to donate his own money to charities or give as much as he said he had. And since Trump's unexpected win, his businesses have come under greater scrutiny because he will be dealing directly with leaders of countries where he has properties and business interests.
Trump's tax returns, if made public, would provide greater transparency into his charitable donations and business dealings.
Trump has said that by law the president can't have conflict of interests, but that his children will run his businesses and he will have nothing to do with them while he is in office. Hoylman says that Trump's personal financial disclosures are important to ensure that Trump follows through and hold him accountable.
Whether Hoylman's bill passes rests on whether Democrats unify in what has been a bitter back and forth over control of the state senate. Although Democrats will hold 32 seats in the senate after the November election results are finalized, enough for the majority, there are enough possible defectors to leave Republicans in power.
Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder sits with Republicans and has said that he is not likely to switch back. And seven other Democrats in the state senate belong to the Independent Democratic Conference, which has sided with Republicans in the past. It's unclear what the IDC members plan to do, but Democrats and progressive groups have called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to use his influence to sway them and put Democrats in charge, according to WRVO.
Stu Loeser, who previously served as a spokesman for Sen. Chuck Schumer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said that while the legislation is obviously well-intentioned in trying to address a major issue Democrats pushed on the campaign trail last year, that is also it's weakness.
"The issue with legislation that addresses problems in the last election is that, generally speaking, you’re never fighting the last war twice," he said.
Loeser, who now advises major tech companies like Tesla and Uber, as well as up-and-coming startups, said that while the legislation seeks to codify what has been established practice related to presidential candidates releasing their tax returns, it might also discourage businessmen from running for office because they don't want their finances publicized.
"Requiring people to disclose the last five years of taxes would have a chilling effect on getting self-made business people, who have created jobs for Americans, into a presidential race," Loeser said.
He mentioned Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who has been floated as a possible presidential candidate, and the lower tax rate he pays every time he sells Starbucks stock.
If he were running and his taxes were public, "Every time he did that he’s open to a carefully-worded, fanged criticism," Loeser said.
Still, Hoylman, who was born in West Virginia, a bastion of Trump working-class support, said that Trump has not properly answered questions related to possible conflict of interests and whether Americans will get information on the president-elect’s financial dealings. And Holyman believes that state legislatures have the responsibility to act.
"Unfortunately, the most robust proposal in response [to Trump] has been from Saturday Night Live and Alec Baldwin who says he’ll stop impersonating Trump if he releases his tax returns," Hoylman joked, before turning serious. "Congress couldn’t do anything, but state legislatures can."