Bill to keep Trump off 2020 ballot could trigger copycat measures

A bill the California Legislature sent to Gov. Jerry Brown that’s intended to keep President Donald Trump off the 2020 California ballot could instead end up ushering in an aggressive new era of scorched-earth national politics – if it survives lawsuits.

Under Senate Bill 149, introduced by state Sens. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, presidential candidates would be ineligible for the California primary and general election ballots unless they had released their tax returns for the previous five years.

If Brown signs the bill, this would mean Trump couldn’t appear on the 2020 California ballot if he ran for re-election and secured the Republican nomination – at least if he stuck to his opposition to disclosing his taxes. McGuire and Weiner insist the bill is a serious attempt to respond to Trump’s refusal to release his returns during the 2016 campaign. Republicans and some Capitol insiders see it as one more attempt to convey Trump-loathing after a legislative session which saw similar frequent displays.

Enactment of the law seems certain to trigger a legal challenge. State-imposed term limits on members of Congress were thrown out in 1995 by the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that states couldn’t tell the federal government who was eligible for federal office.

But so far at least, a cross-section of legal authorities believe SB149 could be upheld if it becomes law, allowing California to impose requirements beyond the present basics that a presidential candidate must be a natural-born citizen who is at least 35 and who has lived in the U.S. for 14 or more years.

Given that the requirement is not onerous and is related to qualification for office, “our research and reflection lead us to conclude that tax return disclosure laws … comport fully with the U.S. Constitution,” wrote Laurence Tribe, Norman Eisen and Richard Painter. Tribe and Eisen have histories of Democratic allegiances, while Painter was an ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush.

UC Irvine law professor Richard Hasen, considered one of the nation’s top election-law experts, said it is difficult to anticipate what federal courts might hold, given that SB 149 appears to bring elements of the U.S. Constitution into conflict. In interviews earlier this year, when the McGuire-Weiner bill first won notice, Hasen stressed the measure’s novelty: “Nobody’s tried it before.”

Tactic could be used against Sanders, Clinton

One reason for that might be political operatives’ awareness the tactic could be used against their preferred candidates in future elections.

In swing states controlled by Republican legislatures and governors like Wisconsin and Ohio, for example, attempts could be made in 2020 to deny ballot placement to candidates who had not belonged to a major party over most of the preceding year (Sen. Bernie Sanders); who had not fully complied with document requests from federal investigators (former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) or who didn’t offer full details on business deals undertaken with donors (many candidates). As Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton wrote, the potential for mischief is immense:

What would be next? A requirement that every candidate release a thorough health fitness report disclosing all past illnesses? Make the candidates pledge to campaign in California for at least 10 days? And how would red states retaliate? Force every candidate to disclose whether they’ve ever voted for a tax increase?

But the San Jose Mercury-News recently pointed out a detail that suggests this debate could be academic. Brown refused to release his tax returns when running for governor in 2010 and 2014. Signing SB149 and going after Trump for his refusal to do so would seem problematic at best for the governor.


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  1. SDVeteran
    SDVeteran 25 September, 2017, 09:27

    In two years when I retire and sell my company, I’m taking my retirement dollars elsewhere. It’s my only way of protest in a State that continues to self-destruct. I view the democrat “resist” movement akin to a coup. The actions of California’s legislature is a soft coup for the Presidency – no question about it.

    Reply this comment
  2. Bruce
    Bruce 25 September, 2017, 09:49

    The silencing of free speech continues. There are some who believe they are smarter that average citizens or continue to do the bidding of elitist that want to control the world by taking down the U.S. (see Obama and deep state represented by both parties).

    Reply this comment
  3. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 25 September, 2017, 10:05

    Actually this California rigging of the election may well work quite well — for Trump. The feds can make a strong case not to accept the ballot outcome of a state that bans a sitting President from ballot status.

    Without the California Electoral College votes for (presumably) Bernie Sanders in 2020, Trump wins reelection easily.

    BTW, if CA does require income tax returns, Trump would be an absolute fool to comply. Let California disqualify itself in the Presidential election.

    Now THAT’S a plan! Indeed, it’s Trump’s only hope of winning the 2020 race, IMNSHO.

    Reply this comment
  4. Phil Hood
    Phil Hood 25 September, 2017, 10:51

    This is asinine posturing by Democrats who should be figuring out how to get elected. And, I’m a Democrat. This is a circular firing squad.

    Reply this comment
  5. Marty
    Marty 25 September, 2017, 12:44

    Another Anti-American attempt by the State of California to destroy the electoral process. If the President was a democrat that had not presented their tax records there is no way they would pass this legislation. Horrible politics (as with all California politics) at its worse.

    Reply this comment
  6. Sean
    Sean 27 September, 2017, 07:42

    Another pointless gesture by the state of California. At least this one doesn’t cost each resident $500 a year in energy costs. My state of Maryland, doesn’t like the electoral college much either and wants to give it electoral college votes only to the candidate that wins a majority in the national election. I had never thought an Republican candidate could ever win Maryland’s electoral votes but that’s a mechanism to make it happen.

    Reply this comment
  7. thg valor
    thg valor 24 February, 2023, 22:32

    Reading your article helped me a lot and I agree with you. But I still have some doubts, can you clarify for me? I’ll keep an eye out for your answers.

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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