SPRINGFIELD – A bill making its way through the Illinois Senate would prevent any presidential or vice-presidential candidate from appearing on state election ballots if they do not release their previous five years of tax return documents.
The Executive Committee passed state Sen. Tony Munoz’s Senate Bill 145 on a 13-4 partisan-line vote Wednesday after a brief discussion as to whether the bill runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution.
For Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, the answer was obvious.
“In my 22 years in the General Assembly, this might be the most clearly unconstitutional legislative proposal I have ever voted on,” he said.
But Jeff Radue, of the progressive advocacy group Indivisible Chicago, read from a statement made by Harvard Constitutional law scholar Lawrence Tribe, who said the mandated release of tax returns would not be unconstitutional.
Upon questioning from Righter, however, Radue said the statement was not made in relation to Senate Bill 145, but on the question of mandated tax return release in general.
Radue said Tribe did a review of similar measures in California and Washington, but bills in those states and others are still making their way through the legislative process.
Righter cited two Supreme Court cases, Term Limits v. Thornton, (1995) and Cook v. Gralike, (2001), which he believes set a precedent of unconstitutionality for ballot qualification measures.
According to the nonprofit, nonpartisan political website Ballotpedia, the Cook v. Gralike decision prohibited Missouri from placing warnings on ballots for candidates that did not support term limits. The Thornton decision invalidated an Arkansas law that denied ballot access to any congressional candidate that had already served three terms. The latter ruling said states cannot impose qualifications for prospective members of Congress that are stricter than those specified in the Constitution.
Righter also pointed out the Illinois bill would not require the release of tax returns from any of the state’s constitutional officers or other elected officials.
Since a vice presidential candidate is not chosen prior to primary filing, Radue said the bill contains mechanisms to mandate release of the documents prior to the general election.
The documents would be released to the Illinois secretary of state’s office and posted to the office’s website. Social security numbers, addresses and telephone numbers would be redacted.
A similar bill passed out of the Illinois Senate in 2017, but it died in the House during the previous legislative session. That bill was carried by former state Sen. Daniel Biss, of Evanston, and it passed with 32 votes in favor.
Notably, then-Sen. Kwame Raoul, who is now the state attorney general, voted in favor of the measure. Raoul’s office would be in charge of defending the measure if it passes the House, is signed by the governor and faces a court challenge.
On Wednesday, Raoul’s office said it has not yet taken a position on Senate Bill 145.