Incensed that President-elect Donald Trump still won’t make public his tax returns, state Rep. Chris Lee is trying to do something about it.

The Democrat from Windward Oahu will introduce during the 2017 legislative session a bill requiring future presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to qualify for placement on the ballot in Hawaii.

Lee said he has been working in coordination with other states — including California, New York and Massachusetts.

“The key thing is that, even if one state passed this into law, it means transparency for the entire country,” he said Wednesday. “Everyone will be able to see whether there are legitimate conflicts based on tax returns. Previous presidential candidates have made this information public.”

During the campaign, Trump, a Republican, said he would not release his taxes until the IRS completed an audit — even though the IRS said he could release them anyway.

Representative Chris Lee. Civil Beat Editorial Board Meeting. 11 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/CIvil Beat
Rep. Chris Lee wants to force presidential candidates to release their tax returns. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The New York Times reported in October that Trump might legally have avoided paying any taxes for decades. During the debates, his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, criticized him for not helping support the U.S. government financially, especially the military. 

On Wednesday, at his first press conference as president-elect, Trump repeated the audit argument and said that Americans don’t care “at all” about the issue.

“We should all be concerned about whether (Trump) is making decisions in the White House that might benefit himself or his businesses.” — State Rep. Chris Lee

Lee cares, however, and he thinks most Americans feel the same way. It’s particularly important in the case of a businessman like Trump, who has far-flung financial interests and a business track record marked by controversy, Lee said.

The president-elect has been appointing a number of corporate executives to key positions in his administration. He is also transferring control of his own business operations to two of his sons and hiring his son-in-law — another real-estate developer with ties to foreign interests — to advise him.

“We should all be concerned about whether he is making decisions in the White House that might benefit himself or his businesses,” Lee said. “It is simply a matter of transparency.”

Lee said the lawmakers he has consulted in others states believe that the tax requirement, which would go before Hawaii voters as a ballot question, would withstand legal challenges.

“At the end of the day, we are all Americans, and the president had to make decisions in the best interest of all of us,” he said.

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