Mass. Considers Barring Trump From 2020 Ballot Unless He Releases Taxes

September 6, 2017

In it's never-ending search for ways to hamstring the Trump presidency, the Massachusetts Legislature will consider a change to state law that could bar President Donald Trump from appearing on the state's 2020 presidential ballot.

If a bill set for a hearing Wednesday becomes law, it would require Trump and any other candidates for the presidency or vice presidency to submit recent tax returns and a statement about their financial interests to the state before appearing on the primary or general election ballots. Bill sponsor Sen. Michael Barrett (D-Lexington) says the bill is intended to restore what was, until last year at least, an unwritten assumption that all major party candidates would release personal financial documents to dispel conflicts of interest.

"This really is an issue that trumps partisanship. We happen to view it right now as an implicit criticism of Mr. Trump, but believe me, we would be quite critical and Republicans would join us, if a Democrat had managed to get elected to the highest office in the country and had not disclosed her income taxes," Barrett said.

Now, Barrett says he wants Massachusetts to pass the law and set a course for other states to emulate before the 2020 election gears up.

"This isn't a matter of barring an incumbent president from a ballot of a state in 2020, this is a matter of that incumbent president, or any president who happens to be in office by 2020, staring at a united front across a number of states," said Barrett.

Over twenty other states, some red, some blue, are considering similar legislation. It would take just one battleground state, where Trump needs the electoral votes to win, to force the disclosure of his finances. At least, that's what advocates hope.

Harvard Law School constitutional law professor Lawrence Tribe has been advising efforts to put similar measures into law in other states. Tribe, an outspoken critic of Trump, says adding a financial disclosure requirement to ballot access is within the authority of a state legislature to decide since it does not add any new qualification for a candidate, only disclosure.

"There's no hiding the fact that politics is involved in the presidential election and I think anyone who would try to pretend that this is a purely scientific matter and that nobody cares who might be running for president would be kind of silly," Tribe told WGBH News.

"On the other hand, it's something that people who are proponents of this measure are willing to apply across the board permanently to anyone who is a presidential candidate," Tribe said.

Passing legislation that would keep Trump off the Massachusetts ballot unless he decides to reverse course and release his financial documentation may not do much to sway the results of the 2020 election. Hillary Clinton won 60 percent of the vote in Massachusetts in 2016 to capture the state's 11 electoral votes. Trump received just 32.8 percent of the vote here.

If Massachusetts passed the law, Trump could decide to simply not bother running here and concede the electoral votes he almost certainly wouldn't win anyway. But if a competitive state, or any state Trump needed to build an electoral majority, decided to enact such a law, his financial documents could quickly become open to the public. 

"Once any battleground state like Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or Ohio or Florida enacts a law like this, which they're more likely to do if Massachusetts does, it will make all the difference in the world," Tribe said.

Barrett expects both Democrats and Republicans to support the measure when it comes up for a vote in the Senate.

"I fully expect our Republican governor, our moderate Republican governor, will sign this if it's presented to them," Barrett told WGBH News.

Baker has maintained a policy of rarely weighing in on issues before a final bill is delivered to his desk and is staying quiet on this issue for the time being. In a statement, Baker spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton wrote that Baker "as a candidate for governor released his own tax returns to the public.”

The state's Republican Party isn't rushing to condemn the bill. A request for comment on the bill to the Massachusetts GOP was not returned Tuesday.

Wednesday also marks the deadline for Attorney General Maura Healey to certify which questions will appear on the 2018 state ballot, including one that would ask voters to decide whether presidential candidates need to release their taxes and financial documents to appear on the ballot.

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