New York Democrats have hatched a plan to get a look at Donald Trump’s tax records by crafting a piece of legislation designed to get at his state returns that does everything but mention the Republican president by name.
The bill introduced this month in New York’s Senate and Assembly would require the state to release five years of state tax information for any president or vice president who files a New York state return.
While Trump’s state return wouldn’t include all the details from his federal return, it would offer the public much more information about the president’s potential conflicts of interest or how his finances would be impacted by his own tax cut proposal, according to supporters.
Democrats in New York and more than two dozen states have crafted bills that would require presidential candidates to release their federal returns in order to appear on that state’s ballot. None of those, however, would require Trump to release old returns. New York state “is in a unique position to change the national conversation,” according to Democratic Sen. Brad Hoylman, of Manhattan, because the president is a native New Yorker.
“This is drawing a line in the sand: Are you for transparency or not?” Hoylman said. “This is an issue of national security.”
The Democrat-led state Assembly is likely to support the measure but not the Senate, where Republicans are in charge.
“This sounds like a P.R. stunt,” said Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate GOP.
The requirement would also apply to the state’s two U.S. senators and top state positions like Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Schneiderman and Cuomo, both Democrats, have voluntarily released their tax returns for years.
Tax returns — state and federal — are almost always considered personal information and aren’t subject to public scrutiny. Every president since Jimmy Carter has released his tax returns.
Trump has so far refused, however, saying he would release them when the Internal Revenue Service completes an ongoing audit.
On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the president has no intention to release the documents and that Americans already have “plenty of information” about his finances.
Trump, a billionaire, owns a global real estate, marketing and property management company, which at the start of his presidency, he placed in a trust that he can revoke at any time. His daughter and son-in-law, both White House advisers, are also holding onto significant business assets. And Trump’s adult sons run his Trump Organization.
Lawmakers in New York likely have the legal authority to require the state to release tax returns, according to George Yin, a professor of law and taxation at the University of Virginia. Yin is a past chief of staff to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation.
“The larger question is whether getting the state returns will provide the kind of information that people have been seeking, such as information about conflicts of interest and the effects of tax proposals on the president personally,” Yin said.
Yin also noted that details about Trump’s finances may not be included in his personal returns but instead in the returns for his various business entities.
The New York legislation would face better odds if not for the state Senate’s odd partisan dynamics. The 63-seat chamber is now evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with one vacant seat that’s expected to go Democratic in an upcoming special election. But Republicans are in control thanks to the support of several Democrats, known as the Independent Democrats, who broke ranks with their party to empower the GOP.
The IDC supports the bill, according to spokeswoman Candice Giove, though Republicans can still block any effort to bring the bill to a vote.
“Our country deserves to know about the business dealings of our president,” she said.
The story has been corrected to show Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Wednesday, not Thursday, that President Donald Trump has no intention to release his tax returns.