Personal Financial Disclosure Forms: What They Can Tell You

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The Personal Financial Disclosure forms that lawmakers are required to file annually are the little explored powerhouse of information about the mix of money, power and politics. By May 15 of each year, lawmakers and their senior staff and top officials in the executive branch must file forms covering the preceding calendar year and that information must list their assets and liabilities, their income (excluding their government salaries, oddly), asset transactions, gifts they received and more. And they must list the source of their spouse’s income.

LegiStorm highlights a story from yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal which reports the former chief of staff to Rep. Curt Weldon admitted, though did not disclose on his disclosure forms, that his wife received cash payments from a group tied to the Russian government, including military and intelligence entities.

Why is that interesting? Because in the meantime, Weldon and his top aide “energetically boosted the group’s cause, mainly obtaining U.S. money for non-proliferation programs,” ProPublica reported yesterday. The aide had not reported the funds his wife received ($19,000 for “editing work”) on his personal financial disclosure report even though he was required to do so. In December, he plead guilty to failing to disclose the income, but it wasn’t until the report in The Journal that the source of the funds was known publicly.

Even though, in this case, the forms wouldn’t have allowed the inquisitive blogger, journalist or citizen to make the link, assuming that most members and staff try to report their income accurately, there is real investigative gold in the Personal Financial Disclosure forms. The Center for Responsive Politics maintains a Personal Financial Disclosure Database, as does LegiStorm.

By accessing these databases, you can explore the holdings and activity of a particular politician. By using keywords or organization names you can search to see who has holdings in a particular corporation etc.

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