Briggs: Pennsylvanians deserve transparency from presidential candidates

When Donald Trump ran for president he promised to “drain the swamp” and change the way things are done in Washington.  He claimed that the government is “rigged.”  And I agree, Washington is rigged, rigged by the corporate interests and wealthy few, and we need to make government work again for working families and the middle class.  President Trump was right that we need to change the way things are done in government. Instead of secrecy and backroom deals, our elected officials should be open and transparent.

 

But on Tax Day, when millions of Pennsylvanians are dutifully filing their income tax returns, we’re reminded that Donald Trump is the first presidential candidate in 40 years to refuse to publicly disclose his.  And despite repeated promises to do so once in office, President Trump still will not grant the public access to his full tax returns. So I have joined other legislators across the country in proposing legislation that would require all presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns in order to appear on the ballot.

 

My legislation, House Bill 222, would require U.S. presidential candidates to make their five most recent available years of Federal income tax returns public to be eligible to appear on the primary ballot in Pennsylvania. Additionally, candidates would be required to provide written consent for the Secretary of the Commonwealth to publicly disclose their returns in order to be listed on the primary ballot. Those returns would then be published by the Secretary to a Department of State website no later than 30 days prior to the primary election.

 

This is not a partisan issue. The idea of full transparency is extremely popular across the political spectrum: a Washington Post-ABC News poll from January found that 74% of likely voters want President Trump to release his returns. And this legislation isn’t just about Donald Trump. My bill would set a baseline level of transparency for all future presidential candidates, regardless of political party.

 

Americans have a right to know exactly who they are voting for, and that goes far beyond a stump speech or three-minute television interview. Without the vital information that tax returns provide, voters will be casting their ballots without a full picture—and when it comes to choosing our nation’s Commander-in-Chief, that is simply unacceptable.

 

In the case of President Trump, what little we do know about his finances raises real concerns about his ability to lead with America’s best interests at heart—rather than his own personal interests or those of his family.

We know that President Trump has done business in many countries with people and firms linked to foreign governments. If he has investments in Russia or other countries, he might be hesitant to pursue policies that are in our national interest but would harm those foreign nations’ economies or his personal investments. His tax returns would tell the public that information­—without them, it’s impossible to understand the scope of those deals and how they might inform his decisions in office.

President Trump himself has said again and again that he would release his tax returns. So, where are they? The people of Pennsylvania want and deserve to see them. That’s why we are advancing this bill that would provide voters the knowledge they need about future presidential candidates to make a truly informed decision at the polls. Every Pennsylvanian and American deserves that fundamental understanding, for the sake of our democracy and our nation’s future.

 

Tim Briggs is a Democratic state representative for Montgomery County.