LegiStorm - an insanely useful site of congressional information including staffer salaries and other disclosures - has, for the first time, posted PDFs of the personal financial disclosures that some staffers are required to file. For every member of Congress, at least one staffer must file a personal financial disclosure. If a staffer is making the maximum pay, as some chiefs of staff do, they must file a disclosure. Staffers hold a lot of power on Capitol Hill and are often overlooked as recipients of undue influence from outside groups. LegiStorm notes this in their press release:
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.
In an article in Roll Call, LegiStorm's Jock Friedly explains the importance of publicly disclosing this information on the Internet:
While Member financial disclosures are relatively easy to find online, getting ahold of staff disclosures is much harder, Friedly noted, since it usually requires a trip to Capitol Hill.
“Currently, there’s no way to get this information if you’re a blogger out in California,” Friedly said. “It’s really making things possible that weren’t possible before.”
Friedly also expects some negative feedback due to posting these documents. LegiStorm has been criticized in the past for posting disclosures by staffers, most notably the disclosure of their salaries, by those who feel this information is private and personal. Our fearless Executive Director Ellen Miller makes the transparency argument in Roll Call today:
But in the age of the Internet, full disclosure and transparency can only come when things are published online for the entire world to access, argued Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a group that advocates using the Internet for transparency.
Miller argued that senior staffers have “a huge influence over Members of Congress” and should expect to have their lives scrutinized a bit more than the average American.
“They are senior-level officials of government,” Miller said. “They knew this requirement when they took this job. ... It’s nothing that wasn’t available before. This just makes it more available.”
Go check out the new database here.