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Democrats target presidential tax returns, conflicts of interest in new bill

rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) — As one of their first big-ticket legislative proposals of the new Congress, House Democrats on Friday will unveil a sweeping anti-corruption, campaign finance and ethics reform package that takes aim at long-simmering concerns about President Donald Trump’s possible conflicts of interest between his actions as president and his family business.

The massive proposal, known as “The For the People Act” and designated as “House Resolution 1,” also includes dozens of measures from Democrats on ethics and campaign finance reform, voting rights and election security. It would also require presidential and vice presidential candidates to release 10 years’ of their personal tax returns and require sitting presidents and vice presidents to do the same.

“It captures all the things the public has wanted to see over the last few years in terms of seeing their voice matter again in Washington on Capitol Hill,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., the chair of the House Democrats’ Democracy Reform Task Force, which helped organize the package.

In addition to the tax returns provision, the bill would also require presidential appointees to recuse themselves from any matters involving the president, a president’s spouse or any entities in which they hold a “substantial interest.”

The measure was derived from a proposal from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and introduced by Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., in the House, according to a section-by-section summary of the proposal obtained by ABC News.

It would also give the Office of Government Ethics more authority to strictly enforce violations of ethics law, such as the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from using official resources for political purposes, a provision repeatedly violated by Trump administration officials, according to the Office of Special Counsel, an independent government investigative agency that is not affiliated with the the Russia investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

A House Democratic aide said the package would also include a nonbinding sense of Congress encouraging presidents and vice presidents to put their assets in a blind trust.

It would also require new spending disclosures for presidential inaugural committees, which comes as Mueller’s team has questioned witnesses about millions of dollars in contributions to the Trump inaugural committee.

While Democrats plan to mark up the legislation in several committees over the coming weeks and send the bill to the Senate by the middle of next month, they’re not expecting much from the Republican-led Senate. In December, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed the effort in remarks during the Wall Street Journal’s annual CEO Council.

“That’s not going to go anywhere in the Senate,” he said.

Still, Sarbanes told ABC News that the package would be important for Democrats to pass heading into two years of divided government, and the next presidential cycle.

“A lot of it is absolutely putting down a marker saying this is the change the public wants to see and anyone standing in the way of that is taking a risk politically,” he said. “If Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans aren’t going to give it the light of day, we think they’re going to have to contend with public opinion on that, which will then translate into electoral results in 2020.”

Sarbanes said Democrats would also be willing to separately pass smaller pieces of the package that could receive Republican support in the Senate. An example is the Honest Ads Act, a Senate bill requiring disclosure for online political ads first introduced amid concerns about Russian use of social media advertising to spread disinformation and disrupt the 2016 presidential election.

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