Politics

Vermont Senate bill aimed at Trump would require presidential candidates to file taxes

Chris Pearson
Sen. Chris Pearson, D/P-Chittenden. Photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
Presidential candidates seeking to be on the Vermont ballot would have to disclose their personal income tax returns for the past five years under a bill discussed Tuesday by a Senate committee.

However, the bill — which is expected to be discussed at some March town meetings — faced serious constitutional questions from some committee members, as well as by the legal counsel to the Legislature and an assistant attorney general. All worried about restricting access to the ballot in any way.

“I’d love to take a whack at Trump,” said Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, but he said he was uncomfortable possibly tampering with the “sacred provision” of easy access to the ballot.

Trump did not disclose his income tax returns. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who Pearson supported, released his 2014 but not his 2015 returns.

Two Government Operations Committee members, Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Windsor, and Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, spoke in support.of the bill, S.77; in addition to Pearson’s concerns, Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, said the bill was “an overreach” by the state. The chair, Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, is a sponsor. She said her goal was to “start a conversation.” An identical bill, H.243, is moving forward in the House.

Supporters said the requirement would provide transparency into a candidate’s finances and possible conflicts of interest.

After committee discussion, the five members agreed to take the measure up again after Town Meeting Day and see how much interest the idea generated between now and then.

Several states, including California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Hawaii are considering similar bills. None have passed. Some would restrict access to the general election, while Vermont’s proposal also includes the primary. Others would only require three years of returns while Vermont’s seeks five. The returns would be posted on the Vermont secretary of state’s website.

Legislative counsel BetsyAnn Wrask said the bill raised constitutional questions. Eve Jacobs-Carnahan, an assistant attorney general, said the bill if passed would “very likely” draw a lawsuit challenge. And because of the type of suit it would be, the plaintiff could seek attorney fees from the state.

“It could be a very expensive lawsuit,” she testified.

A bill introduced last year in the U.S. Senate would require a presidential candidate to file returns for the last three years with the Federal Election Commission.

Committee members said citizen groups are pushing to discuss the bill on Town Meeting Day.

The bill is supported by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

“There’s nothing radical about disclosing one’s finances and financial interests when seeking high office. Until recently, releasing such information was considered a given. But we’ve learned that we cannot take transparency for granted,” said VPIRG executive director Paul Burns.

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  • Chet Greenwood

    Careful what you wish for!
    Aside from trying to defend the constitutionality which could cost millions, Trump, and possibly others, would tell Vermont to go pound sand! Not worth the 3 votes so they will not spend any money in Vermont to advertise or organize a paid staff.
    What will Vermont gain from this? Another 1st in the nation award!

    • Homer sulham

      I would think that Our elected officials should have more important things to do.

  • Neil Johnson

    But you don’t want this for your selves in the ethics bill? How convenient. Grandstanding in Montpelier but unable to balance a budget?

  • Neil Johnson

    Oh and conveniently sponsored by lobbyists, we are so run by lobbyists in this state.

  • Chris wilmot

    Another year wasting time. Get ready for them to be paid overtime

  • Paul Richards

    ““I’d love to take a whack at Trump,” said Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden…”
    That’s what most of this selective outrage is all about; taking a whack at Trump. Get over yourselves and move onto more important things. Everyones tax returns are their own business, nobody elses. Maybe we should make a law that says if the Senate majority leader makes a bald face lie on the senate floor like harry reid did about Romney’s taxes they should be impeached. He is free to lie and anyone running for president is free to keep their tax returns private. Obama locked up his entire past and nobody questions that.

    • Neil Johnson

      Well maybe they would like to surpass his EO on becoming a lobbyist after serving in Government!. In Vermont we actually hire lobbyists to work in Government, you can go out and be a lobbyist against the people after leaving office and get paid big money.

      Our president said, not for 5 years, and never for a foreign country. Seems to be way more ethical than any proposal by our reps. At least 5x more “ethical”….I’d love to see us take a swipe at that and surpass it!

    • David Bell

      “Everyones tax returns are their own business, nobody elses.”

      “Obama locked up his entire past and nobody questions that.”

      Alright, let’s say Obama decided to keep his tax returns private while you and your fellow right wingers were shrieking for his birth certificate and every transcript since pre-K; are you actually going to pretend you would not have been howling in rage?

      • Zachary Kent

        They are completely different issues. The birth certificate issue validates your eligibility to be president at all. The tax return issue does not affect eligibility at all; it just annoys people that he is richer than they will ever be and found a way not to pay income tax for a few years.

        Also, legally vital records are public records and can be looked up by anyone. Tax returns are not.

        • David Bell

          “They are completely different issues.”

          Yes, Obama was irrefutably a US citizen who Trump falsely claimed was born in Kenya.

          Trump meanwhile, likely has a whole host of conflicts of interest related to financial ties to Russia; much of which could be demonstrated via his tax returns.

          Obama was eligible to be President, Trump just enjoyed lying about it. Just as he enjoyed demanding Obama’s transcripts, because apparently he is entitled to this info. Not that Trump volunteers anything ever… but Obama must be held to a different standard.

        • David Bell

          As an addendum to my previous comment.

          There is exactly as much evidence that Trump was not eligible as their is that Obama was not eligible.

          Unless you believe Trump needs to prove his eligibility, this is what is called hypocrisy.

  • Chip Morgan

    How can this be an appropriate use of legislators’ time and VT taxes?

    • John Zuppa

      I agree with you, Chip….We should not be spending any of our time or taxes on this…a Vermont State Legislator should show all Taxes and Business holdings so we can be protected from profiteering…

      One thing that should be done though is this…

      In the Global Economy that we are in now…It should be a Federal Requirement that anyone wanting to be in our Federal Government show All aspects of their National and Global Profits, Debts, Investments and Taxes…

      They are supposed to be working for us…Not the other way around

      • Chip Morgan

        Sure, John! They are supposed to be working on legislature for us. But I’m not completely convinced that even a brilliant voter can analyze the impact of a legislator’s personal financial situation and its impact on his/her ability to perform public service.

    • Neil Johnson

      It’s interesting how lightening quick our representatives react to National issues huh? It’s like instantaneous, yet they never seem to get around to issues pressing on Vermont Citizens. This is no accident, they are totally controlled by the party, by monopolies, by press, by lobbyists, everyone but the people whom voted for them. Follow the stories, been happening every day for the last 3 years I’ve been reading the news…it’s no accident.

      • Chip Morgan

        Yes. They represent districts of Vermont and should do their job for their constituents. Anything else is an opinion and should be taken as such.

      • Zachary Kent

        I wonder how many recent VT elections were run based on an “attack Trump at all costs and no matter what the issue” platform? None — that’s how many. I am annoyed at every single VT choice I made this year.

    • Steve Baker

      It’s not, our state legislature isn’t smart enough to solve any of the tough problems facing Vermont so instead they go out and try to slay dragons which are actually windmills.

  • Michael Olcott

    tbh i think that all of a POTUS records should be made a matter of public record. everything from their GPA’s to the tax returns. either that or let everything be hidden and not held against the person. after all if they have nothing to hide…

    • Zachary Kent

      > tbh i think that all of a POTUS records should be made a matter of public record.

      Why? Public officials are real people too (even if you don’t like them) and they deserve to have their right to privacy protected also.

  • Dennis Works

    So, my understanding from the majority of the 10 comments (so far) is that people have no interest in a presidential candidate’s financial holdings and how those holdings could present a conflict of interest in his/her decisions as an elected official, and have no desire to follow the requirements of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. It seems to me that during the campaign the right had PLENTY to say about the Clinton’s charitable foundation and the fact that there were a number of foreign-sourced donations. As some have said, be careful what you wish for. After all, eventually a Democratic candidate for President will pull the same shenanigans that Trump has and hide his/her income sources (BTW – Clinton DID reveal her income sources). What will you say then? Our leaders can only get away with such things if an unbiased electorate demands transparency and accountability – from ALL candidates. Think about it.

    • Steve Baker

      You didn’t seem to be interested in Hillary Clinton’s pay for play while she was running for office .

      • Dennis Works

        Steve Baker: Au contraire.

        One: I was VERY interested in Hillary Clinton’s involvement with various financial entities (be it Wall Street, the Clinton Foundation, etc.). It is one of the reasons I was at best a tepid Clinton supporter (and yes, I did vote). However, I would have much preferred Bernie Sanders to have been the Democratic nominee and our current President.

        Two: If Hillary had been elected President I would have expected her to divest herself of ALL profit-making interests or to put them into a blind trust – especially if those interests included foreign monies. That way she would have been free from charges of possible conflicts of interest. Also, the emoluments clause of the Constitution SPECIFICALLY prohibits ANY government officeholder of profit or trust from accepting any presents or emoluments (a salary, fee, or profit) from any foreign entity without the permission of Congress.

        Either you believe in the Constitution in its entirety, or you don’t believe in it at all.

      • David Bell

        Your comparing speaking fees for a lecture with owing massive sums to foreign companies and perhaps even governments?

      • Phil Greenleaf

        Steve Baker et al – One major reason this is important is that Trump (as a fair sized employer) is undoubtedly complicit in hiding various business tax revenues just like corporations that have moved parts of businesses off coast. At these times (because this is a cyclical phenomenon) when conservatives are clamoring for fiscal austerity, one of the first targets should well be tax codes that harbor billions of dollars from reaching the budget. There are plenty of ways to peel this financial onion but in my view we could at least start working on this type of hypocrisy. Doing so would obviously trigger the conservative cry _ “In the name of Capitalism, this will stifle job creation! Sounds suspiciously socialist to me” – but if we think about it in terms of job creation this is not a time to trust corporations to glad-handout jobs. American manufacturing will not return to it’s loft, and in general the outlook on job creation on shore is pretty dim. In terms of what will work – we know it won’t be the sophomoric garbage of Steve Bannon, it won’t be Reaganomics, and it won’t be Trumpian infra-deconstruction because all 3 are about as heavy as the plastic wrap on the cheap toy this admin and a very quiet republican congress sold you.

    • Neil Johnson

      He said he would have released them if the audit from the feds was done. That would have been an easy thing, finish the audit of one man! Why didn’t the IRS do that? He doesn’t pay taxes, he was using all the rules put in place by President Obama and Bush. He was following rules made by our government, just like everyone else.

      • David Bell

        “He said he would have released them if the audit from the feds was done.”

        So, Trump is allowed to hold himself to a standard different from the one he held Obama to, different from the one decades of candidates have been held to…. because he says so?

        “He was following rules made by our government, just like everyone else.”

        And if he is in fact financially beholden to the Russians, a clear conflict of interest; that’s fine with you?

        What other things is Trump entitled to get, just for following the same standards other candidates have been held to?

    • Forrest Greenwood

      Thank you!

  • David Dempsey

    On my top ten list of priorities that the legislature should work on, this is about number 50. Everyone knows that Trump has more money than a majority of countries in the world. I could care less.

  • Zachary Kent

    Fast forward: Trump finally releases tax returns. We discover that he made billions of dollars and didn’t pay federal taxes! (he admitted that). Gasp! Woah! Who knew?!

    What are liberals really expecting to find? I think its just a way finally force Trump to do something he doesn’t want to so opponents can feel empowered in some small way. Everyone, please find something more productive to do.

    • David Bell

      Fast forward, we find Trump has extensive ties to Putin and the Russian government, owes them hundreds of millions and worked closely with the people who were tied to the DNC hack.

      Trump: Sure I collaborate with foreign governments to attack my political rivals.

      Ok, how about we be “productive” and follow the so-called President’s lead in asking Trump to release his birth certificate and college transcripts?

      • Steve Baker

        How about if Trump releases his tax records as soon as Hillary Clinton produces the 33,000 deleted emails and Barack Obama makes all of his college records available ?

        • David Bell

          See my response below.

  • John farrell

    If I do not pay my income taxes I would be fined or put in jail. During his election campaign Trump bragged about NOT paying any income taxes due to his lawyers using loopholes to avoid same. So, now we have a president who does NOT pay his share of taxes which support ALL of our governments programs. He is shameless!!

    • Steve Baker

      The Democrats had a big hand in writing all of the IRS laws. John, I certainly believe you don’t pay more taxes than absolutely necessary… I could be wrong. Hypocrisy has a very short memory

    • Zachary Kent

      > If I do not pay my income taxes I would be fined or put in jail.

      Not if you can find a loophole, too.

    • Mike Burnham

      If he has done something illegal, then have him arrested. He didn’t write the tax code and can use it legally any way he wants. So can you. what is his share of taxes? How many thousands of jobs have you created?

      • David Bell

        How many thousands of jobs has Trump shipped off to foreign countries?

        How many contractors have sued him for reneging on his agreements? Few thousand at this point (give or take)?

    • Forrest Greenwood

      John be real. He didn’t write the IRS TAX CODE. He is utilizing it like everyone else. Please look at the whole picture.

  • Peter Chick

    This task belongs to the internal revenue service and no one else.

  • Steve Baker

    Again, what a waste of time and taxpayers money. VTDigger should list all the worthy initiatives our state legislature has worked on since Election Day.
    – recount the recount
    – $15 or not to $15
    – marijuana initiatives
    – Long acting contraceptives
    – card games for nonprofits
    – Fantasy sports
    – presidential executive orders
    Not a single priority geared towards controlling costs and relieving the Tax burdens on the productive Vermonters.
    What does it matter if Vermont requires tax returns, why not add to it Birth certificates and college records?
    Vermont needs to realize we are very inconsequential when it comes to the presidential election.
    The legislature in our governor should get on with the peoples business.

    • Neil Johnson

      They could have lowered the tax bill by $416 for 600,000 people in Vermont had they passed an actual ethics bill. Notice how they are working on a non-functioning ethics commission.

  • Deb Billado

    This work is not the job of the legislature. We are watching a body with little direction other than to dabble in issues which have no impact. There seems to be a continuous momentum to reengineer society and its behaviors rather than focus on the safety (harmful elements) infrastructure and balancing the budget. It feels like none of the heavy lifting is being done and that every bill proposed is trying to out do the craziness of the previous work they focused on. The legislature has WASTED hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars over the past 8 years on the “itch of the day” issues they deem important. When will the “group think” come to an end.

  • David Bell

    It is truly astonishing watching Trump supporters absolutely in terror at the mere mention that our so-called President would actually be held to the same standards as every other President for decades.

    Ultimately it proves quite clearly the level of hypocrisy needed to support Trump.

    Obama needed to produce his birth certificate, every transcript since Pre-K along with dozens of other documents no President has actually provided in modern history. Not for any actual reason, but just because right wingers said he did.

    Ask Trump to abide by the same standards as their sainted Ronny Reagan and it is just beyond the pale.

    Double standards are apparently the only standards they have left.

  • Brooke Paige

    If Vermont’s Secretary of State, Jim Condos, flatly refuses to require Presidential candidates to submit proof that they meet the Constitutional Presidential requirements or to certify their signatures on the election consent forms, claiming he has no statutory authority – How in the heck will this be enforced and by whom ?

    Just another time waster by people who already have more important issues “on their plate” than they can possibly figure out ! It appears that if it’s Trump and Bernie bashing, it’s “good to go !”

    One additional thought, does this proposed law apply only to Presidential Candidates seeking ballot access OR does it apply to all Federal, State and Local candidates ? If it is intended to apply to all candidates, then I think it is a great idea !