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Poll: How Much Transparency Is Enough for Gubernatorial Hopefuls?

Right now, candidates deliver very few details about their financial assets and interests. Should we be seeing more?

Earlier this week, the personal financial disclosure forms that primary candidates for governor and other offices must file became public. While the forms report sources of income and assets, they contain no details about the size of a candidate’s pay, wealth (beyond whether it exceeds $1,000), and assets (like stocks and bonds) that provide $100 or more in income.

Meanwhile, the debate over Donald Trump’s decision not to release his tax returns prompted lawmakers — nearly all Democrats — to vote to send Gov. Chris Christie a bill that would require all future presidential candidates to provide their tax returns to the state Division of Elections to be posted online.

Some candidates for governor — notably Democrats Phil Murphy and Assemblyman John Wisniewski — already have privately “released” their tax information by allowing reporters to look at several years’ worth of returns but not make copies or post online. Others, including Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, say that’s not enough and that candidates should make their returns available online for all to see. As Christie’s lieutenant, she does post her income taxes online each year, as he does. There are no laws requiring candidates or elected officials to make their taxes public but it has been done by governors in recent years (and by presidential candidates other than Trump).

Open-government advocates have long called for greater transparency of candidates’ wealth and now some gubernatorial candidates have joined the call.

Should New Jersey require candidates for governor to disclose additional details about their income and wealth and, if so …

… what should they have to make public?

  • No. They already fill out a seven-page form that lists their sources of income and the names of assets such as stocks and bonds. They also have to provide this information for a spouse and for their children. It’s already hard enough to get good people interested in running for office. The current form seems like enough to give voters a sense of whether one candidate or another is suited for office.

  • No. We should expect more information from officials already elected to high office only. In fact, I would support a law requiring this because it would better hold them accountable to the public. But why should candidates be required to release sensitive information? It would only be for prurient interest.

  • Yes. The current form is a joke. Congressmen, high-ranking state employees, and legislators all have to provide more detailed information than gubernatorial candidates do but even their form, which asks ranges of income, is not sufficient. New Jersey should revise the disclosure forms to require the reporting of actual amounts. Then the public will be able to see exactly how large a vested interest a person has in various businesses.

  • Yes. Forget about imperfect disclosure forms and instead have candidates make their tax returns public. The information should be online and available to anyone who wants to see it. The information on the tax return contains the detail that should be sufficient to help voters decide who to choose.

  • Yes. The position as head of the state is important enough to require candidates to both fill out a detailed disclosure form and release their income tax returns. The form can provide an easy-to-read summary of a candidate’s income and assets for people who are only interested in that. But the tax return should also be available, online, so that all voters who want to go deeper can look at the information important to them and not have to rely on someone else’s reading of the form. Most voters would not have the knowledge – or patience – to understand someone like Murphy’s 300-page form.

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