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Washington Report

Opinion: What’s Trump Hiding? CA Rightly Demands Tax Returns

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Donald Trump and Gavin Newsom

by Garry South

Gov. Gavin Newsom set off a blizzard of criticism last week by signing a law requiring that all presidential and gubernatorial candidates provide five years’ of income tax returns in order to appear on California’s primary ballot.

Most of the pearl-clutching has plopped into the following three baskets:

  • There surely must be something unconstitutional about a state setting ballot-access requirements on candidates for president. 
  • Newsom’s Democratic predecessor, Jerry Brown, summarily vetoed a nearly identical bill in 2017. 
  • This action will set up a “slippery slope,” with other states imposing all kinds of inane and unfair ballot restrictions on presidential candidates.

I’m neither a constitutional lawyer nor scholar–don’t even play one on TV–but I can read plain English, and as several real constitutional experts have opined, I see nothing whatsoever unconstitutional about this measure. The Constitution clearly gives states the power to determine how their presidential electors are chosen.

And there is urgency. Newsom was particularly justified because the United States is facing an unprecedented circumstance with arguably the most utterly corrupt president ever to sit in the White House.

California already establishes various kinds of requirements on candidates for public office such as filing fees, a certain number of verified voter signatures in lieu of fees, and most important and germane, so-called statements of economic interests.

Under state law, every candidate running for office must timely file these disclosures listing investments, interests in property, loans and all income received during the previous 12 months. These forms can be maddeningly vague, listing assets and income in broad monetary ranges that preclude determining exactly how much a candidate is worth, owns or makes.

But if candidates do not submit the statement, they are denied access to the ballot. Actual tax returns are much more important and revealing, informing voters about whether candidates are conflicted, pay their taxes, or are subject to undue influence by debtors or special interests.

Some Democrats and the Republican Party are seizing on the fact that Newsom’s Democratic predecessor, Jerry Brown, vetoed a similar bill in 2017. There are two points to make about that action:

  • Brown refused to release his own taxes when he ran for governor in both 2010 and 2014, so had little moral standing to impose the requirement on anyone else. Newsom has released his tax returns every time he’s been on the ballot, including when running for lieutenant governor and governor. This law would apply equally to him. 
  • In his veto message, Brown struck a flippant tone, asking hypothetically what would be next, “high school report cards?” It was a disservice to equate tax returns with the grade someone received in Mr. Klosky’s sophomore chemistry class. 

Tax returns offer a basic roadmap to a candidate’s finances, income, debts, and potential conflicts, not to mention whether they give to charity.

I got into an exchange on Twitter with a Brown supporter who defended Brown’s withholding his tax returns in 2010 by claiming that he promised to produce them if his billionaire Republican opponent made her returns public. Since she didn’t, neither did he.

But this misses the point: Releasing a candidate’s income tax returns is an important benefit for the voters, not just some cynical game of chicken to play with your opponent.

In the 1998 governor’s race, my candidate, Gray Davis, released a full 10 years of his taxes, not waiting for his two multi-millionaire Democratic opponents to release theirs, or conditioning the release on their doing likewise.

In the 2006 gubernatorial primary, I was chief strategist for Controller Steve Westly’s campaign for governor. He released 10 years of his returns in 2005, 171 days before our Democratic opponent released his, and 212 days before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made his available.

With respect to the “slippery slope” argument of Brown and others, it’s impossible to predict what some states controlled by Republicans might try to do to retaliate.

But California has always been a leader among the states, not a place held hostage by fear of what other states may or may not do. Numerous states are currently considering similar tax-disclosure laws, including some in which legislation has already passed one house or the other, and they should.

Not only has Donald Trump broken with more than 40 years of precedent in refusing to release his taxes voluntarily, he is also going to unprecedented efforts to keep his taxes from public view in every other way.

This includes instructing the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to refuse to turn over his federal returns to Congress, despite a longstanding federal law that clearly stipulates tax returns “shall” be made available if chairs of designated congressional committees request them.

And it’s not just his federal returns. Trump has sued to block a New York state law that would allow his state returns to be made available to the same congressional committee chairs. Why such frantic efforts at secrecy if he has nothing to hide?

Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. Newsom was right–morally, legally and politically—to sign this measure into law. Good for him for being a Democratic governor with the courage to do so, and to take the resulting flak.

Garry South is a veteran Democratic campaign strategist who has played central roles in four California gubernatorial campaigns, garrysouth11@gmail.com. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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Washington Report

Back From Eye of Impeachment Storm, Schiff Rekindles Local Focus

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Back from eye of impeachment storm, Schiff rekindles local focus

BURBANK (Los Angeles Daily News) — After months in the eye of the Washington impeachment hurricane, House intelligence committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff is a national hero for Democrats and sworn enemy for Republicans. It’s a status that no doubt complicated his recent attempt at a workout at the Burbank YMCA.

Among dozens of handshakes and selfies, a man at the gym unsheathed a Donald Trump flag from his backpack and a woman shared a heartfelt story of her closest friendship torn apart by impeachment. The celebrity politician, a former triathlete with a separated shoulder, was hoping to pump some iron in the weight room.

Since impeachment proceedings concluded with Trump’s acquittal in the Senate earlier this month, Schiff has paid close attention to Trump’s swift purge of non-loyalists from his administration and warnings from intelligence officials that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election to try to get him re-elected or benefit Bernie Sanders.

Back home in his district ahead of what experts consider a non-competitive race for reelection in California’s 28th district, Schiff has raised more than $9 million — the most of […]

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California

California Sues Dept of Energy for Over Energy Efficient Lightbulbs

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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New York Attorney General Letitia James today, leading a coalition of 16 attorneys general and the City of New York, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Energy (DOE) challenging its final rule rolling back energy efficiency standards for certain lightbulbs.

The lawsuit alleges that the rollback of the energy efficiency requirements for certain lightbulbs would unlawfully delay the adoption of energy efficiency goals, undermine state and local energy policy, and increase consumer and environmental costs.

“The Trump Administration needs to move on from old-fashioned technologies and yesterday’s way of doing business. It’s time to face the reality that American consumers deserve and demand more efficient and sustainable options,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Today we filed this lawsuit to block the Department of Energy from pushing a foolish agenda that prioritizes out-dated, polluting technology over the needs of the people and our environment. We can’t afford to turn our back on progress.”

On May 3, 2019, the attorneys general submitted official comments on the DOE rollback proposal. They asserted that DOE should maintain the stricter, environmentally sound definitions enacted by the Obama Administration in 2017, which expanded the definition of general service lamps (GSLs) to include seven previously unregulated types of light bulbs.

By including those types of bulbs as GSLs, the 2017 definitions subject them to the congressionally-imposed GSL minimum standard of 45 lumens per watt applicable on January 1, 2020. The rollback would remove those lightbulbs from the GSL efficiency, costing consumers $12 billion each year in lost electricity savings by 2025, or $100 per household per year.

By reversing the 2017 rules, the DOE is enacting a less stringent standard in violation of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. This action is arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act.

Joining Attorneys General Becerra and James in filing the lawsuit are the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

Additionally, the coalition submitted comments opposing DOE’s related proposal to not amend (and strengthen) energy efficiency standards for common pear-shaped incandescent light bulbs. According to DOE’s own analysis, if DOE were to adopt strengthened energy efficiency standards for these bulbs, the net present value of the benefits to the nation would equal up to $4.171 billion.

A copy of the petition and the comment letter can be found attached to the press release here.

Attorney General Becerra has fought to preserve energy efficiency standards which save consumers and help protect the environment. In 2017, Attorney General Becerra sued to challenge DOE’s failure to publish finalized energy efficiency standards for portable air conditioners, generators, air compressors, boilers, and walk-in coolers and freezers.

A district court ruled in 2018 that DOE’s action was unlawful, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling in 2019. Also in 2017, as part of a multistate coalition, Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals challenging DOE’s unlawful delay of enforcement of energy efficiency standards for ceiling fans. As a result of the lawsuit, DOE changed course and let the standards go into effect.

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Scandals

Rep. Katie Hill Resigns from Congress, Blames ‘Abusive’ Husband

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Rep. Katie Hill Resigns from Congress, Blames 'Abusive' Husband

WASHINGTON DC (TMZ) — Freshman Congresswoman Katie Hill just threw in the towel … announcing her resignation amid a scandal that she’s now blaming on her husband and dirty politics.

Rep. Hill — a Democrat — issued a letter Sunday, saying she was stepping down from her elected post in the House of Representatives after winning the seat in last year’s election. She repped California’s 25th congressional district, covering parts of Northern Los Angeles.

In the document, she makes some damning allegations against her estranged husband, Kenny Heslep … whom she’s in the middle of divorcing right now, and it just got nastier.

Hill writes, “This is what needs to happen so that the good people who supported me will no longer be subjected to the pain inflicted by my abusive husband and the brutality of hateful political operatives who seem happily provide a platform to a monster who is driving a smear campaign built around cyber exploitation.”

She goes on to say, “Having private photos of personal moments weaponized against me has been an appalling invasion of my privacy. It’s also illegal, and we are currently pursuing all of our available legal options.” The implication is that Heslep facilitated the leak.

If you hadn’t heard … nude photos of Hill surfaced last week, as did news of extramarital relationships she allegedly had with 2 different people — a congressional staffer of hers, and a former campaign aide. She admitted to the aide fling, but denied a staffer affair.

Hill finishes her letter by saying that she’s stepping down to avoid further pain and embarrassment being thrust onto her and others, while also apologizing for her mistakes.

She writes, “Thank you for allowing me to turn my focus on this particular battle right now, and know that I stand with you as we continue to fight for the many important issues that brought me to Congress in the first place.”

Hill ends on a positive note, writing … “I love this country, I love all of you, and I thank you for allowing me the great honor of serving you.”

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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