My colleague, Larry Makinson, moaned and groaned a couple days ago that the personal financial disclosure records for members of Congress were not available in electronic form. Well, Sunlight noticed that too and that’s why one of the first grants we made was to the Center for Responsive Politics to create a searchable online database out of those paper records.
CRP has collected, scanned and posted PDF images of Personal Financial Disclosure reports for members of Congress since 1995. In case you don’t know these reports show which members are the wealthiest, which own certain stocks, which members maintain (or have recently paid off) large debts, etc. In short, there’s some really important information in those forms that might tell us how lawmakers vote, the earmarks they propose, and why. With paper records, analyzing this data is so…last century. Meaningful and timely analysis is practically impossible. (This is no accident…)
The new database that CRP will produce will mean that members of the press and citizens will finally be able to search and compare the assets and liabilities of members of Congress without conducting the painstaking and time-consuming research now required. Imagine that after a vote is taken in which pharmaceutical companies make out like bandits, that you could learn — with one keystroke — that 75 percent of the lawmakers who voted for the legislation own stock in pharmaceutical companies! (That’s just a hypothetical, of course. Just a wild guess….)
The data will be made up of relational tables that capture the individuals filing and their payments, income, assets, gifts, reimbursements, liabilities, positions held, and agreements. CRP is going to start with the latest filings — that cover the last year — and then they will work backwards. The initial database will be up and operating publicly by September 1. The latest filings for lawmakers will be available on June 15.