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Is it Appropriate to Require the Tax Returns of the President, Vice President, and Members of Congress?
03/08/2019 116th Congress Helen J
keywords: taxreturns

On March 4, 2019, Republican representative Bill Posey R-FL proposed a new bill, H.R. 1489, to amend the IRS Code of 1986. The Florida Congressman suggested that the new code require the President, Vice President, and Members of Congress, as well as potential candidates for office, to disclose their tax returns. While there are many potential problems with the proposed bill, it does bring up a question about whether it is appropriate to require candidates to disclose personal and private information about their finances.

Privacy and Legal Standards

When evaluating whether a law is appropriate or not, it is important to consider the rights of the individuals involved. Although public servants do give up a certain level of privacy in their daily lives, they still have rights as citizens of the nation. Privacy rights, in particular, are the topic of discussion for this new bill. 

Candidates for office should have the right to privacy with regard to their tax returns. The IRS is required to provide a certain level of privacy in relation to individual tax records. It is not legal for the IRS to disclose personal information about an individual and their taxes to the public, as that goes against the privacy laws set in place to protect your personal data and information. The proposed bill eliminates any privacy standards for potential public servants, as well as the privacy of family members.

Constitutional Standards for the President

A key factor that is overlooked in relation to the discussion about disclosing tax returns by law is the Constitution. The U.S. Constitution sets clear standards for Presidential candidates. The candidates must be 35 years old, born an American citizen, and a resident of the United States for 14 years to qualify for the presidency. It is Unconstitutional to require the President, Vice President, and other public officials to reveal personal and private information related to their taxes.

Family Income and Wealth Vs. Monthly Income

While it is clear that disregarding the privacy of an individual is a topic of concern, there is also a question about family wealth and income. Requiring public officials to reveal their tax returns to the public means disclosing personal data about the monthly income of the entire family. It also does not discuss the complexity of family wealth or generational wealth. 

Annual income or monthly income is not a direct reflection of individual wealth or family wealth. The proposed bill only requires the disclosure of annual income via tax returns, but it does not require the disclosure of family wealth. By requiring candidates to disclose their tax returns, it allows a gradual change to requiring the candidates to disclose all of their financial information, including family wealth.

Consequences of the Bill

The obvious consequence of the bill is the loss of privacy. Candidates for public office, and their close family members, would have no privacy in relation to their personal financial data. It means they are not given the same rights to their personal privacy as other individuals, and it may prevent individuals from considering a position as a public servant. 

The bill is also Unconstitutional. It would require an amendment to the Constitution to change the standards for the President. It would also give Congress power over Presidential elections, which is Unconstitutional. The Congress has no authority over Presidential elections and giving power to the Congress would undermine the separation of the Federal government from the State government.

Proposing a bill that requires Presidential, Vice Presidential, and Congressional candidates to disclose private information is a serious concern. It is not appropriate to ignore privacy laws to appease curiosity. It is also not appropriate to ignore Constitutional standards, which have a clear separation of governmental power to prevent corruption and limit the risks to the American people.

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