If New Jersey is going to require presidential candidates to release their income-tax returns before they can appear on the statewide ballot in 2020, it looks like that change won’t occur until after Gov. Chris Christie leaves office.
Christie, a second-term Republican and an ally of GOP President Donald Trump, rejected a measure yesterday that was drafted by Democratic lawmakers after Trump broke with decades of tradition and refused to release his income-tax returns in the run up to last year’s presidential election.
In a conditional veto, Christie removed all income-tax disclosure language from the legislation, instead turning the bill into a proposal to compel lawmakers to follow more stringent public-records rules, something that is now expected to die in the Legislature.
But the roadblock to increasing the financial transparency of presidential candidates in New Jersey could be just a temporary one. Christie is due to leave office early next year due to the state’s gubernatorial term limit, and the bill’s primary sponsors are pledging to keep pressing the issue as the state awaits its next governor.
Five years of candidates’ returns
The legislation that was turned away by Christie with a conditional veto seeks to require presidential candidates in New Jersey to provide tax returns going back five years to the state Division of Elections. It would also prohibit Electoral College electors from voting for a candidate in New Jersey who has not complied with the tax return disclosure requirement.
The measure was introduced earlier this year in response to Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, something that presidential candidates from both parties have done since the 1970s as a matter of tradition. Last year, more than 70 percent of likely U.S. voters who were polled by Quinnipiac University said Trump should release his returns, but Trump has refused to do so, even after winning the 2016 election.
The bill, which passed both full houses of the state Legislature in March, would require Trump, if he seeks re-election, and any other candidate seeking the presidency in 2020 to submit to having their tax returns disclosed to voters in New Jersey.
In a message that was attached to the conditional veto yesterday, Christie questioned whether the new state requirement would be constitutional, and he also accused Democratic legislative leaders here of playing politics with the transparency issue.
“Unwilling to cope with the results of last November’s election, the Legislature introduced this unconstitutional bill as a form of therapy to deal with their disbelief at the 2016 election results, and to play politics to their base,” Christie said in the veto message.
‘Grandstanding and childish rhetoric’
“Rather than focus on the multitude of important issues impacting New Jersey’s residents, the Legislature wasted time on a bill that manufactures from whole cloth a qualification for the office of President not found in the United States Constitution in the hope of scoring cheap political points,” Christie said.
But sponsors of the bill accused Christie yesterday of missing the point of their attempted reform by making his veto message all about the 2016 election and Trump’s victory.
“This is an issue that is larger than the current president, and in fact would not require that he release his tax returns today or even over the next four years unless he decides to seek re-election,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen).
“Gov. Christie’s veto is sadly not surprising, nor is his grandstanding and childish rhetoric, but it’s still disappointing for the people of New Jersey,” said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex).
The two sponsors also pledged to continue their effort to enact the change in presidential-candidate transparency rules, suggesting it may be something that the state’s next governor will choose to do. And after two terms under Christie — who has been struggling for months to improve record-low approval ratings — many expect New Jersey voters will pick a Democrat when they go to the polls later this year.
“This is not the end of this issue here or for others who are committed to seeing this effort through,” Weinberg said.
“This has and will continue to be about requiring transparency for those seeking the White House,” McKeon said. “Gov. Christie may not have signed it, but this debate will continue and hopefully the next governor will be more willing to do the right thing.”