Now that it is official that the Feds are investigating Countrywide's "VIP" home loan program, it's time to revisit one of the key problems in disclosure that abetted the hiding of these loans. Since every member of Congress is required to file an annual personal financial disclosure report it would seem as though the public would have the ability to know which lawmakers received loans from which mortgage company and at what rate. Unfortunately, personal financial disclosures do not require lawmakers to list private residences or any home that does not generate income (ie: rent).
This is a problem with an easy solution. Earlier this year, numerous lawmakers, including Rep. Mark Souder and members of the Senate Ethics Committee, introduced bills to require limited, but adequate, disclosure of personal residences. Now that this issue is back in the headlines Congress should move quickly to address future concerns and tackle the myriad other problems with the personal financial disclosure forms.
The Sunlight Foundation's Executive Director Ellen Miller had an op-ed in Roll Call (sub. req'd) earlier this year that addressed the failings of the personal financial disclosure:
...Congress must make personal financial disclosures more transparent and accurate. All of the manners in which lawmakers obscure their finances must be eliminated. Exact dollar figures must replace ranges. Loopholes for residences that do not generate income should be closed. Lawmakers must reveal how much stock they own, show who they are doing business with when engaged in a partnership, and list property in a more transparent manner. Personal financial disclosure reports must live up to the desire of Congressional leaders to operate in an open and honest manner.