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Can the US Congress pass a law to require all presidents to disclose their taxes, earning and financial dealings?

Would this cause any constitutional, legal or other scope related conflicts?

Are there issues of "grand fathering" associated with enacting a law like this?

What impact do the following factor play on the legality and rationale for passing this sort of law?

  1. The federal government is already equipped and empowered to do audits of individuals and corporate entities.

  2. Transparency has been a critical part of American government controls.

  3. There are guidelines, prohibitions and precedence that have established public expectations for public officers.

  • I think that this is more a legal question than a political one, even if the law affects the political process. Maybe law.stackexchange would be a better place. That said, I doubt it could be grandfathered for two reasons. First, judges are in general against retroactive clauses; second, once a President has been sworn in the only option Congress has to remove it is impeachment. A law saying "Do X or you will get fired" would add a way to remove the president without following the stablished procedure. – SJuan76 Aug 24 '17 at 21:26
  • I'm not a constitutional scholar, but I can't think of anything in the constitution that would invalidate said legislation if it were to pass. – user1530 Aug 24 '17 at 22:26
  • The biggest thing that would make such legislation toothless: who would enforce it? It's not Congress's job, it's the President's. – cHao Aug 24 '17 at 23:22
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on Law.SE – JonathanReez Supports Monica Aug 25 '17 at 0:50
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    A question does not become off topic just because it happens to also be on topic on another site @JonathanReez. Even if it's more suitable for the other site. – yannis Aug 25 '17 at 7:35
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Yes, Congress could pass a law that modifies the Federal Election Commission's personal financial disclosure requirements so as to include personal tax returns. According to the FEC website personal financial disclosures are currently required Presidential and vice presidential candidates. However, the current requirements do not require tax returns, but legislatively Congress could choose to require the FEC to demand tax returns. BTW, the incumbent is NOT required to file a PFD.

As to enforcing it, if the candidate fails to provide the required registration and documentation, they can not (legally) set up a campaign committee. There is likewise a (suggested) restriction that the candidate may not be able to register with the various states for ballot purposes.

I would venture that "grandfathering" or ex post facto application of such a law would be found unconstitutional (however that is just my opinion)

As to your other questions, those are interesting subjects for discussion, but also highly speculative.

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    Congress could also make the tax return public without requiring any action from the President. After all the IRS does hold a copy. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Aug 25 '17 at 0:52
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    As to enforcing it, if the candidate fails to provide the required registration and documentation, they can not (legally) set up a PAC or Super PAC (for example). Wouldn't it be simpler (and less prone to workarounds) making failure to comply just a reason to dismiss the candidature? What would happen now to a candidate aho refused to provide the financial disclosure that is required? – SJuan76 Aug 25 '17 at 8:55
  • @Brythan, you are correct and I will edit to reflect that. – BobE Aug 25 '17 at 18:13
  • @SJuan76 - There are no restrictions on who can run for President other than that they must be constitutionally eligible. There are only restrictions are on raising funds (which the FEC regulates) and getting on state ballots. Neither one will automatically prevent you from begin elected - however, you are highly unlikely to get any electors to vote for you if you're not on the state ballot, and you're highly unlikely to get enough votes if you don't have a campaign fund. – Bobson Aug 25 '17 at 20:23
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The piece you appear to have missed is that something passing Congress doesn't make it law. It goes to the President for his signature or veto (or intentional inaction, which either makes it effective or becomes a pocket veto depending on where on the calendar it falls).

Either Congress and the President acting in agreement, or a Congressional "veto-proof majority" which not only passes the bill but also overrides the veto, could enact such a law.

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    Tax returns are suppose to be confidential. If I recall correctly, this was one of the express representations when the Constitutional amendment was passed. Besides, a balance sheet is much more instructive. – TomO Aug 25 '17 at 20:29
  • I suggest that technically speaking Congress passes legislation (commonly referred to as a bill). When the President approves (signs) that bill it becomes an ACT (commonly referred to as a law). Should the President not approve the legislative action by veto, the Congress may take up the bill to override the veto. Simply because a bill was passed with a "veto-proof majority, does not make the bill an Act - Congress must actually vote a second time to over-ride the veto. – BobE Aug 25 '17 at 20:36
  • @TomO >Disclosure to Committees of Congress The law allows congressional committees to receive tax information, but only in a closed executive session, unless the taxpayer consents in writing otherwise. The heads of three committees may request tax information from the IRS -- the House Committee on Ways and Means, the Senate Committee on Finance, and the Joint Committee on Taxation. Other committees may request tax information only when specifically authorized by their respective body of Congress, or, for a joint committee, by a concurrent resolution of the House and Senate.< – BobE Aug 25 '17 at 20:41
  • @BobE: By "not only... but also", I meant to make clear that the two are separate votes. Do you think it's unclear? – Ben Voigt Aug 25 '17 at 20:41
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Can the US Congress pass a law to require all presidents to disclose their taxes, earning and financial dealings?

No. There are 90+ senators that have presidential aspirations. There is no way you are going to get them to pass a law that will someday force them to reveal how they have been milking the system.

Thus it is impossible to get this done. Could they if they wanted and had support for it? Sure they have the power to do that. It would have a better chance coming from the states as an amendment to the Constitution though.

Would this cause any constitutional, legal or other scope related conflicts?

This is a potential. But as long as they do not include judges in the scope then I doubt the Supreme Court would strike it down.

On the other hand if the law required the IRS to release tax returns I can see some incredible opportunities for challenges to the authority of the IRS and other issues that would arise. This would be a poison pill for any member of any governing body.

Are there issues of "grand fathering" associated with enacting a law like this?

Certainly any president or other official that would be affected that took office prior to the law being enacted would not be able to be subject to the law. Its possible that persons in office at that time would have to either resign comply with the law. Also one thing that has not been discussed is penalty. If the penalty is something like $1000 per day I can see many potential leaders paying the penalty for non compliance rather than actually divulging their records.

What impact do the following factor play on the legality and rationale for passing this sort of law?

  • The federal government is already equipped and empowered to do audits of individuals and corporate entities.
  • Transparency has been a critical part of American government controls.
  • There are guidelines, prohibitions and precedence that have established public expectations for public officers.

The office holders have been ignoring, intentionally not complying, and out right breaking those laws and rules for as long as they have been making them. Why would this rule be any different.

  • Can any of these claims be backed up? Remember, answers should be factual - not speculative. – indigochild Aug 26 '17 at 2:07

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