Open Forum: Anti-Trump tax return law is a disingenuous election reform


Originally Appeared in SF Chronicle

The law Gov. Gavin Newsom signed last week requiring that presidential candidates release their tax returns to appear on California’s ballot is merely the latest example of an attempt to confer partisan advantage under the guise of “election reform.”

No one believes Newsom’s claim that the law is about transparency and an informed electorate rather than a partisan attack on President Trump. If the governor and Legislature really believed it was so crucial for candidates to disclose their tax returns, they would impose the requirement on state controller and treasurer candidates, for whom financial aptitude is an important job qualification, and on city and county governing bodies overseeing multimillion-dollar budgets.

Manipulating election rules to promote one side or the other is nothing new in California. In 2011, when Gov. Jerry Brown pushed a law to require all statewide initiatives to appear on November ballots in even years, it was not to unclutter June primary ballots. It was because the November electorate skews more Democratic, making it easier for a Democratic-controlled Legislature to pass its pet initiatives.

Such disingenuous electoral reforms are found at the local level, too. Last year, the increasingly powerful San Diego Democratic Party and labor unions championed a law to require all June primary elections to go to a November runoff even when one of the candidates receives more than 50% of the vote in the spring. Their campaign touted the measure as leveling the playing field, but the real agenda was to reduce the power of Republicans, who typically vote in higher numbers in June.