Political Reforms in the Post-Trump Era: Tax Disclosure


The Post-Trump Era of American politics will be on us sooner than we think. Six years and change (at the longest) is not that long in the grand scheme of things, and there's plenty of scenarios where the Post-Trump Era could begin much sooner than that.

Depending on how the end of the Trump presidency plays out, it's entirely possible that the country will be in the mood for significant reforms to our political system. It's been a surprisingly long time since that's happened: on average, we amended the U.S. Constitution on average about once every 12 years between the Bill of Rights and the end of the Nixon administration. In the past 45 years, however, there's been only one amendment ratified, and that one was originally proposed in 1789. So we're long overdue for some tweaks.

I've been thinking lately about what sorts of reforms would make sense, given all that's happened since the ratification of the 26th amendment (which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote) in 1971. There's no lack of proposals out there, with the most common one being a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. But I'd like to give some serious thought to what sorts of reforms might actually improve the way our system works, and also have the kind of nonpartisan and broad appeal that make for a reform which will be widely accepted.

My first idea is a small one, requiring presidential candidates (and perhaps all candidates for federal office) to disclose their personal finances in detail. Since Nixon, all presidential candidates have done this voluntarily until Donald Trump. Until 2016 the tradition of releasing a candidate's tax forms was so firmly established that I think some people believed it already was a legal requirement.

This sort of financial disclosure is important because it shows where a candidate could have conflicts of interest, and it also demonstrated a candidate's willingness to put service to the country ahead of personal enrichment--both areas where our current president could use some improvement. It's not going to fix a lot of problems by itself, but it would at least raise the level of transparency and make it harder for an officeholder to engage in blatantly corrupt behavior.

But while this reform is small, it would also be easy to enact. Each state has its own rules about who is eligible to be on the ballot, and if just a few states (maybe even just one state) began requiring candidates to release their tax forms in order to get on the ballot for President or Vice President, then it would immediately become a de-facto requirement for the major party candidates. Neither party wants its candidate for President left off the ballot anywhere, and releasing your tax forms in California (or Vermont, or South Dakota) is as good as releasing them everywhere.