Matthew Tang


Donald Trump is the first President since 1977, and the first major- party nominee since 1980, to refuse to release any of his federal income tax returns. This break in tradition has led lawmakers in at least twenty- five states to propose legislation requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns in order to appear on state ballots. California is one of those states. On July 30, 2017, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 27 into law, effectively barring presidential candidates who have not made available for public inspection the last five years of their income tax returns from appearing on the state’s primary ballots. However, on October 2, 2019, a federal district court issued a preliminary injunction against SB 27 on the theory that it violated the Presidential Qualifications Clause as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments. And on November 21, 2019, the California Supreme Court struck down SB 27 for violating article II of the California Constitution. This Note proposes two alternative approaches to incentivizing the release of tax returns that avoid the California and Federal Constitutional challenges faced by SB 27. The first involves fining or otherwise penalizing presidential candidates who fail to release their tax returns without denying them ballot access. The second involves taking note of a candidate’s failure to release his or her tax returns either on the ballots themselves or on the informational material that typically accompanies them.