Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson December 17, 2021

Requirement for candidates to release tax returns on hold due to Senate filibuster

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden said he would enact legislation to require every candidate for federal office to disclose tax returns dating back 10 years. This followed the refusal of Donald Trump to release his tax returns, unlike every other presidential candidate going back to the 1970s.

The voting and elections bill known as H.R. 1 — which passed the House in March with only Democratic votes — addressed a portion of this promise, saying that all candidates for president and vice president must submit 10 years' worth of tax returns to the Federal Election Commission. (It did not make the same requirement for House and Senate candidates.)

When the bill moved to the Senate, some provisions were removed, including the one on tax return disclosure for candidates.

However, on Dec. 9, the House passed the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which, among other things, includes what amounts to the same requirement for presidential and vice-presidential candidates to disclose 10 years of tax returns. 

That said, either of those election-related bills faces a steep climb in the Senate.

In June, the Senate voted 50-50 to proceed with debate on the chamber's version of H.R. 1, falling 10 votes short of the 60 required to move forward. That vote effectively shelved the legislation in the Senate, unless Democratic leaders can convince holdouts within their conference, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to agree to a carve-out to the 60-vote threshold for election-related bills.

As is the case with other election-related promises that were passed by the House in H.R. 1 but are now blocked in the Senate, this promise is moving to Stalled.

Our Sources

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson March 12, 2021

House-passed H.R. 1 would require presidential, VP candidates to share tax returns

After Donald Trump broke with a decades-old practice of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns, Joe Biden said during his campaign against Trump that he would make sure that no future candidate could do the same thing.

"As president, Biden will enact legislation requiring that every candidate for federal office disclose returns dating back 10 years prior to the date they declared their candidacy for their first federal office," the Biden campaign said.

The voting and elections bill known as H.R. 1 addresses a portion of this promise, though not all of it.

A provision of H.R. 1 says that all candidates for president and vice president must submit 10 years' worth of tax returns to the Federal Election Commission, which would make them public with necessary redactions to protect personal information.

But it's important to note a few caveats.

First, H.R. 1 has passed the House but faces a difficult path in the Senate, where it would require 60 votes to advance. That means 10 Republican senators would need to approve a motion to proceed to consideration, which is unlikely since not a single Republican voted for H.R. 1 on final passage in the House.

Second, the provision within H.R. 1 is more limited than what Biden advocated during the campaign. It addresses tax returns for presidential and vice presidential candidates, not for all candidates for federal office (which would include the Senate and House).

And third, some experts say the tax return provision could be unconstitutional. 

"The Constitution sets the requirements for presidential candidates, not federal law," said Matthew Weil, associate director of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Democracy Project. "I have to believe that those provisions in H.R. 1, if enacted into law, would be challenged in court and likely deemed unconstitutional."

Weil said that while states "have some leeway to implement ballot access restrictions that are deemed to be not too burdensome," such as signature requirements and filing fees, the California Supreme Court in 2019 struck down a state law that would have required presidential candidates to publicly disclose their tax returns. The ruling said the additional burden would not pass constitutional muster.

The same risk of being declared unconstitutional would also apply to a similar requirement on candidates for House and Senate, Weil said, since the requirements for candidates to Congress are enumerated in Article I of the Constitution.

Setting aside the question of constitutionality, the House's passage of H.R. 1 does indicate that at least a portion of Biden's promise is moving forward, so we rate it In the Works.

Our Sources, H.R. 1, accessed March 12, 2021

House roll call vote on H.R. 1, accessed March 12, 2021

Email interview with Matthew Weil, associate director of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Democracy Project, March 12, 2021

Latest Fact-checks