A petition calling for the release of President Trump’s tax returns posted to the White House’s “We the People” petition website is still garnering interest. The petition, which was created on January 20, asks the White House to “[i]mmediately release Donald Trump’s full tax returns, with all information needed to verify emoluments clause compliance.” The petition goes on to say that “[t]he unprecedented economic conflicts of this administration need to be visible to the American people, including any pertinent documentation which can reveal the foreign influences and financial interests which may put Donald Trump in conflict with the emoluments clause of the Constitution.”
Within 24 hours of posting, the petition had been signed by 131,000 people. One week later, the petition had been signed more than 300,000 times. As of this writing, the petition had been signed 462,412 times. That makes it one of the most popular petitions in the platform’s history.
The petition platform began in 2011 under President Obama. Under the terms, anyone 13 or older with a valid email address can create or sign a petition on WhiteHouse.gov. Petitions that receive 100,000 signatures within 30 days are reviewed by the White House for a response. Petitions which receive fewer than 100,000 are archived and are not publicly available on the site without a direct link.
Previous petitions answered by the White House addressed concerns about the Stop Online Piracy Act (the White House vetoed the bill); allowing consumers to unlock cell phones (the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act became law in 2014) and a call to build Death Star (you can read my take on that here).
The President’s tax returns have been a matter of interest since his campaign. In the run-up to the election, Trump indicated that he would not release his tax returns since they were under audit. At a January 11 press conference, Trump repeated his stance, saying, “I’m not releasing the tax returns because as you know, they’re under audit.” He continued, “You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, OK? They’re the only who ask.”
Trump was then asked by a reporter, “You don’t think the American public is concerned about it?” He replied, “No I don’t think so. I won, when I became president. No, I don’t think they care at all. I don’t think they care at all… I think you care — I think you care.”
Nationwide polls, however, have indicated that there is interest. President Trump is the first president in more than forty years to decline to release his tax returns, in whole or in part or as a summary.
(You can read more on historical presidential candidate returns, including those from 2016 (Trump excepted) as part of the Tax Analyst’s Tax History Project here.)
Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns has attracted notice in Congress. A bill called the Presidential Tax Transparency Act, which would require a presidential candidate to release the most recent three years of tax returns to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) within 15 days of becoming the nominee at the party convention, currently sits in committee (that’s code for “it will likely die” – you can read my take here).
The White House has not indicated whether it will respond to the petition and it did not respond to my request for more information. However, in a January 22 segment for ABC’s “This Week,” Kellyanne Conway made it clear that the returns would not be released. “The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns,” she said, adding, “We litigated this all through the election.”
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