Personal Financial Disclosure
From OpenCongress Wiki
All Member's of Congress must file personal financial disclosure documents. Any staffer paid more than 120 percent of the GS0915 minimum pay rate must file a personal financial disclosure. If a member's staff does not employ someone at such a high rate than the member must designate any one of his staffers to file a disclosure.
Personal financial disclosures are filed on May 15th and can be accessed by visiting either the Office of Public Records in the Senate or the Legislative Resource Center in the House of Representatives.
The law mandating the filing of personal financial disclosure documents continues to be the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. The House of Representatives includes the language from the Act in House Rule XXVI. The Senate includes the same language in Senate Rule XXXIV.
Despite the requirement that these documents be made available to the public neither the Clerk of the House nor the Secretary of the Senate place personal financial disclosures on their respective websites.
What's in the document?
Personal financial disclosure documents have a number of categories that each Member of Congress must fill out. These categories include earned income, payments in lieu of charity, assets and "unearned" income, transactions, liabilities, gifts, travel payments and reimbursements, and outside positions.
The earned income section states that each filer must list all earned income, including source, type, and amount, from any source exceeding $200 in the past year. Filers must also list the source and amount of all earned income totaling more than $1,000 for their spouse. For the spouse, the filer must also list all honoraria received.
Payments made to charity in lieu of honoraria
Filers must disclose payments they received (from speeches, op-eds, etc.) that were diverted to a charity instead of going to the filer. Each payment listed must include the source, the activity, the amount of the payment given to charity, and the date. A separate, private list of the charities receiving the money must be filed as well but will not be made publicly available.
Assets and "unearned" income
Filers list their holdings in stocks, real estate, retirement plans, and IRAs. Filers must also list the assets and "unearned" income of their spouse. Excluded from filing are personal residences and debt owed to the filer by a spouse, children, parents, or siblings. Assets may also show business owned by Members of Congress or their spouses. For instance, personal financial disclosures show that Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) is the owner of the NBA basketball team the Milwaukee Bucks and that the husband of Rep. Jane Harman (D-Ca.) owns Harman International Industries, one of the largest home stereo and speaker companies.
Proponents of increased disclosure believe that this section of the personal financial disclosure is increasingly inadequate in the wake of numerous instances of filing that appeared to conceal inappropriate deals. For instance, Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was criticized for failing to list a trust that he was a party to that owned land which Hastert resided on. Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Ca.) was not required to disclose the sale of his private residence when he sold it to the contractor Mitchell Wade for well-above market value, an illegal sale that constituted a bribe.
The transaction section is an extension of the assets and "unearned" income section where the filer lists all sales, purchases, and exchanges of assets in the previous year. The same value ranges that are employed in the assets section are used for transactions as well. Filers must list all transactions made by themselves, their spouses, and any dependent child.
The liabilities section requires filers to list all liabilities owed by them, their spouse, or a dependent child that totals more than $10,000. The value ranges employed in the assets and transactions sections are used in the liabilities section. Excluded from disclosure requirements are mortgages on a personal residence unless it is rented; 12 month loans secured by automobiles, furniture, or appliances; and liabilities owed to certain relatives.
All gifts received by the filer totaling more than $305 must be disclosed in the personal financial disclosure document. The filer must list the source, a description of the gift, and the total value of the gift. Gifts given to the filer's spouse or dependent child must also be disclosed.
Travel Payments and Reimbursements
The travel payment section is often amended to reflect incorrectly filed information. In some instances false filings have led to ethics charges and criminal inquiries. One particular trip that has raised criminal inquiries into legislators was a golfing trip to Scotland paid for by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The trip raised eyebrows because the lawmakers who traveled with Abramoff all listed the National Center of Public Policy Research as the origin of the trip money. (See the accompanying image for an example.) Investigators later revealed that the money was funneled through the NCPPR by Abramoff to avoid breaking laws that preclude lawmakers from accepting trips from registered lobbyists. The trip included three lawmakers, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), who would be the subject of federal investigations. Ney has since plead guilty to various felony charges and DeLay and Feeney remain under investigation.
Where to find the documents
Personal financial disclosure documents are not housed online in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. To obtain them directly from Congress a person would be required to travel to Washington, D.C. and procure them from either the Legislative Resources Center (House) or the Office of Public Records (Senate).
- ↑ Schmidt, Susan and James V. Grimaldi, "Nonprofit Groups Funneled Money For Abramoff," Washington Post, June 25, 2006.