Congress financial forms now online

October 2, 2012

Financial disclosures of members of Congress became more readily available Monday as required by the Stock Act. Access to such forms filed by many senior career federal employees will remain restricted for at least two more months, however.

The available disclosure forms of House members and candidates go back to 2008, and only current Senate forms have been posted. Disclosures by House members previously were online, but reports of House candidates, along with all Senate member and candidate reports, had to be viewed on-site on Capitol Hill.

“This has been long overdue,” said Daniel Auble, senior researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that tracks money in politics. “It really took a lot of resources to deal with these things. The candidate filings were basically just not out there.”

The Stock Act, enacted in April, contained a similar requirement that agencies post on their Web sites the forms filed by some 28,000 high-level career federal executives, military personnel and political appointees. Congress later delayed online postings by a month, through September, because of concerns that such easy widespread access could endanger employees’ safety and privacy and could pose risks to law enforcement and national security.

Currently, while those forms are public records, they must be requested individually from employing agencies, in many cases through a paper-based process.

The new law generally delays the posting requirement for those filers until Dec. 8 and orders a six-month study by the National Academy of Public Administration; during its post-election session, Congress might enact a further delay pending that report. However, the new law let the posting requirement go into effect as of Monday for members of and candidates for Congress, and for Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and others at comparable levels.

The Office of Government Ethics meanwhile has posted on its site since March the forms filed by those top-most executive branch officials and by other Senate-confirmed political appointees.

Several other provisions of the Stock Act affecting public financial disclosure filers have gone into effect and are not affected by the partial delay in postings.

One provision requires filers to notify their agencies within three days of beginning discussions that could lead to employment or compensation from outside the government and to withdraw from any decision that could involve a real or perceived conflict of interest.

Another requires that certain personal financial transactions generally must be reported within a month, rather than annually as under prior law, although online posting of those updates has been delayed for most. The law further adds a requirement that executive branch employees who file the disclosures must report certain financial transactions by spouses or dependent children monthly, rather than annually, as of Jan. 1.

Similar requirements for more prompt disclosures of personal and family financial transactions are in effect for members of Congress, and those reports are to be posted online.

“Anyone with access to the Internet will be able to look at this and keep track of what their representatives are doing more easily,” Auble said.

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