Skelton: Trump won’t publicly release his tax returns; politicians shouldn’t have to

US President Donald Trump speaks about taxes at the St. Charles, Missouri, Convention Center on November 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KammNICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump is right about one thing: He shouldn’t have to publicly release his tax returns.

Even a president has some right of privacy. And politics-playing Democrats are trying to invade it — in Congress and the California Legislature.

But it’s a delicate line.

It doesn’t mean that congressional oversight committees shouldn’t take a private look at the president’s personal and business returns to ensure he isn’t being coddled with special favors by the Internal Revenue Service. They should and the law seems to give them the right to.

The dilemma is that Congress leaks like a rotted roof. It’s hard to envision Congress getting a private look at Trump’s returns without them winding up on every newspaper’s front page and debated on cable TV ad nauseam.

In Sacramento, a Democratic bill is advancing that would require presidential candidates to publicly release their tax returns for the last five years. After redacting such personal information as Social Security numbers, the returns would be posted on the secretary of state’s website — an effective way for the secretary to draw eyes to his or her homepage.

Candidates who refused to release their taxes wouldn’t be allowed on the California ballot.

“Transparency provides the basis for accountability in government,” says the bill’s author, Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg).

McGuire also argues that every major presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 — except for Trump in 2016 — has publicly released tax returns voluntarily. In some cases, it was less voluntary and due more to browbeating by opponents and reporters.

McGuire got a similar bill passed in 2017 and then-Gov. Jerry Brown wisely vetoed it. If Brown hadn’t, he would have been guilty of hypocrisy. He refused to release his returns when running for governor in 2010 and 2014.

In his veto message, Brown wrote that he recognized “the political attractiveness — even the merits — of getting President Trump’s tax returns.” But he added: “I worry about the political perils of individual states seeking to regulate presidential elections in this…

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