There are very good reasons for wanting to see President Donald Trump’s tax returns — and some bad ideas about how to make that happen.
Trump, first as a candidate and now as president, has refused to release his federal filings, claiming that they are under audit, although there is no Internal Revenue Service rule stopping him from doing so. Since Richard Nixon, all presidents have voluntarily released their returns to show they are not using their office to enrich or otherwise benefit themselves, or making foreign-policy decisions against the best interests of the nation.
Now the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is demanding that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confidentially submit Trump’s returns under a broad 1924 law passed after the Teapot Dome scandal. Mnuchin refuses, and this is headed for a legal showdown. The privacy of tax returns is paramount, but so is the need to ensure legal and ethical behavior by our top elected officials. That’s why Congress must pass a full financial disclosure law, requiring the president and other top federal officials to disclose their tax returns and other financial documents.
The New York Legislature should do the same. Under consideration, however, is a flawed and blatantly political measure unlikely to survive judicial review. Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, has a bill that would allow the state to release to Congress the returns of a U.S. president. The better approach is a comprehensive bill to require the release of New York returns by all officials elected statewide, all state legislators and all federal officials who claim the state as their legal residence, which right now includes the U.S. president. Taxpayers could see for themselves whether officials have conflicts of interest. This is especially true now that members of the State Legislature soon will be the highest paid in the nation and must limit their outside income to 15 percent of their salary.
There is a credible case for demanding Trump’s tax returns, just as there is one to be made that all top state and federal officeholders from New York do so as well.