Presidential Candidates May Be Forced to Disclose Tax Returns Thanks to New Colorado Ballot Proposal

More than 200 people gathered at Commons Park in Denver and marched June 3, 2017, demanding President Donald Trump’s tax returns that would allegedly show collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign.

After a similar effort at the state legislature went down in predictably partisan flames, a citizens’ group wants to ask voters to require presidential candidates to disclose their income tax returns — or be barred from the Colorado ballot.

The proposed ballot initiative comes in response to one of the 2016 election’s more persistent controversies: President Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, which broke with longstanding political norms.

The effort’s being led by Strengthening Democracy Colorado, a government reform group founded by a pair of attorneys, Scott Cadiz and Jason Legg.

“We think there are a variety of structural factors that are making our democracy suffer,” Legg said. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. People think government’s corrupt and doesn’t represent them, so they don’t vote, and it gets worse.”

Polling has consistently shown that voters in both parties want to see tax returns from presidential candidates, with one survey from Public Policy Polling finding in March that as many as 61 percent of voters would support a law requiring the disclosure of five years’ worth of returns.

But the citizen-led effort in Colorado is no sure thing. First, it would have to clear a number of hurdles to make it on the ballot in 2018 — including a massive signature-gathering effort that the group hopes to achieve entirely with volunteers.

Last year, the group failed in its effort to bring an initiative to the ballot that would have required automatic voter registration when an eligible voter applies for a driver’s license. To qualify for the statewide ballot, statutory initiatives like this one need 98,492 qualified signatures from voters.

And even if the initiative makes it to the ballot and is approved by voters, it’s no sure thing to take effect.

At least 26 other states introduced similar legislation this year, after Trump became the first major-party presidential candidate in more than 40 years not to release his returns. But legal experts differ on whether it would be constitutional for states to impose such restrictions on a candidate for federal office.

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