The Washington Post

You can find it all on the Web — except the justices’ financial reports


The Supreme Court after a dusting of snow in Washington on Feb. 25, 2014. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The digital age has been a boon to reporters, bloggers, researchers and just about everyone looking for just about anything. It’s been especially useful for getting general financial information about government officials — senior administration folks, members of Congress — and specific salaries of congressional aides.

As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which let individuals send the maximum contribution to as many candidates as they please: “With modern technology, disclosure now offers a particularly effective means of arming the voting public with information.” In a 1976 ruling on these issues, the court “observed that Congress could regard disclosure as ‘only a partial measure,’ ” Roberts said.

“That perception was understandable in a world in which information about campaign contributions was filed at FEC offices and was therefore virtually inaccessible to the average member of the public.  Today, given the Internet, disclosure offers much more robust protections against corruption.”

Reports and databases are available on the FEC’s Web site almost immediately after they are filed, supplemented by private entities such as OpenSecrets.org and FollowTheMoney.org. Because massive quantities of information can be accessed at the click of a mouse, disclosure is effective to a degree not possible ” when earlier cases were decided, he said.

But some information remains, if not “virtually inaccessible to the average member of the public,” then at least not in sync with the new court-hailed digital world.

That would be the financial disclosure forms of the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Our colleague Alice Crites recently got this standard e-mail when she asked for copies of the justices’ financial disclosures for 2013.  “Your copies of the available reports will be available for pick-up from this office on Friday, June 20, at 1:00 p.m,” she was told. That’s pretty easy if you live in this area.

“The reproduction cost for the available reports is $18.00,” the e-mail said. “If you have not already done so, you must present the original Form AO-10A with a check or money order for this amount, made payable to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts when you come for your copies of the reports.”

Maybe that’s not exorbitant for the “average member of the public,” but a bit pricey for some folks, especially if they have a right to the info.

Now, if you don’t live around here, that’s okay. “Your copies can also be mailed to you,” the e-mail said. Just send in that form along with your check or money order for $18.00 and “upon receipt, we will send the requested material to you.”

Of course, the public will be able to search on-line once people start scanning and putting up the printed forms. But still …

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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