This is a great resource for journalists, public interest groups and citizens to learn more about the people their elected leaders trust most to perform the public's business.
Washington, DC (PRWEB) February 26, 2008
LegiStorm, the Web site that first caused controversy in Washington by publishing congressional staffer salaries, has now launched the first database of personal financial disclosures for thousands of the most powerful aides.
By law, members of Congress and their highest paid staff - who tend to be the most powerful on Capitol Hill - are required annually to disclose information about their personal finances, including details about their debts, stock portfolio, outside earned income, spousal employment, major gifts received and even their gambling winnings.
"Publication of these personal financial disclosures can shine a powerful spotlight on potential abuses," said Jock Friedly, a former Capitol Hill investigative reporter who is founder and president of LegiStorm. "This is a great resource for journalists, public interest groups and citizens to learn more about the people their elected leaders trust most to perform the public's business."
Rules from the House of Representatives state, "The objectives of financial disclosure are to inform the public about the financial interests of government officials in order to increase public confidence in the integrity of government and to deter potential conflicts of interest."
Friedly expects controversy with the new free database. "I understand that congressional aides want to jealously guard their privacy and I sympathize," he said. "However, these are the behind-the-scenes power players who control a $3.1 trillion federal budget and write all the laws of the land. It's hard to argue that they are not important public figures worthy of a little scrutiny."
Financial disclosures of members of Congress, top executive branch officials and some state legislators have been published on the web before. However, this is the first known time anyone has published a significant number of congressional staff financial disclosures.
Most disclosures are relatively mundane and appear to demonstrate those staffers have no discernible potential conflicts of interest, Friedly said. However, hundreds of staffer disclosures reveal ties to interest groups and lobbying firms, either as a past job, a spouse's work or a future employment agreement. Others reveal lucrative side jobs, adding as much as $100,000 or more to their federal pay.
Financial disclosures sometimes are the subject of federal investigations. Two chiefs of staffs to members of the House of Representatives last year pleaded guilty to charges of lying on their financial disclosures. According to reports, a current FBI investigation of a powerful senator revolves in part around a key omission from an aide's disclosure that suggests public funds may have been spent performing personal work for the senator.
Congress has more than 16,000 staffers, with roughly 15 percent of those required to file personal financial disclosures. Staffers making more than $111,675 on an annual basis in 2007 were required to file, along with a number of other aides who were designated as key personnel.
LegiStorm has a comprehensive database from 2007 forward, but has many hundreds of disclosures dating prior to that as well. Users have a number of options for finding disclosures. They can search for specific aides or browse by name, by office or by state of the member of Congress who employs them.
The scanned images of the documents filed by staffers are available in Adobe PDF format. LegiStorm also allows users to browse text-based information culled from disclosures, especially where it might be useful in determining potential conflicts of interest. This information includes notable items like spousal employment, campaign work, prior employment, positions held, gifts received and agreements entered into.
In addition to this latest database, LegiStorm, founded in September 2006, maintains the only database of congressional staff salaries at http://www.legistorm.com. The site features numerous other resources, such as political headlines and cartoons, House and Senate floor and committee schedules, and reports from the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, and the White House. Before launching its database of staffer disclosures, the site already maintained the disclosures of all members of Congress.