STATE HOUSE – As details trickle out about who would gain
and who would lose under the federal tax overhaul bill approved by Congress
this week, Rep. Teresa Tanzi and Sen. Gayle L. Goldin are renewing their call
for legislation requiring presidential candidates to release their personal tax
returns in order to be listed on the Rhode Island ballot.
The two state lawmakers say Americans have the right to know
what conflicts of interest their president may have and whether he’s
substantially benefiting more than other taxpayers from a tax bill he is
pushing for and signing.
President Donald Trump is the only president – and the only
major party presidential candidate – in the last 40 years to refuse to publicly
release his tax return.
“Especially considering his vast real estate holdings and
the wide reach of his family’s companies and assets, President Trump’s lack of
transparency raises significant questions about how he may be personally
benefiting from the law he plans to sign. We are left questioning every
carve-out for businesses, like those for real estate holdings and allowing the
PGA to maintain its nonprofit status, and wondering what his personal benefit
is going to be,” said Senator Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence).
Said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown,
Narragansett), “The federal bill lowers taxes for pass-through businesses,
estate taxes and high earners, all of which we know would benefit Trump and
billionaires like him. It further erodes public confidence in the process and
leads us to question the integrity of current executive and congressional
leadership when we know that the president is influencing this process, but we
are prohibited from knowing just how much it will enrich him personally. Our
legislation is a way to provide transparency and ensure that the public can see
what the president’s personal benefits would be under any tax changes he may
influence and sign.”
When the 2018 legislative session begins in January, Senator
Goldin and Representative Tanzi plan to reintroduce their legislation (2017-S 0091,
requiring all candidates for United States president and vice president to file
copies of their last five years of federal income tax returns with the state
Board of Elections no later than 50 days prior to the general election in order
to appear on the Rhode Island ballot.
Under the proposed legislation, the Board of Elections would
be required to redact certain information after consulting with the state tax
administrator and director of revenue, and then to post the return on the Board
of Elections website.
Unlike members of Congress, the president is exempt from
many conflict-of-interest laws. Except President Trump, every president since
Richard Nixon has voluntarily released his tax returns. Tax returns provide
information about a candidate’s financial ties to foreign businesses and
governments, business arrangements, and other potential conflicts of interest.
While it is widely known that President Trump has done
business in many countries with people and firms linked to foreign governments,
without his tax returns, it’s impossible to understand the scope of those deals
and how they might affect his decisions in office. Additionally, tax documents
from 1995 showed that he reported a $916 million loss, which tax experts say
could have been used to avoid paying any federal income tax for up to 18 years.