When Disclosure Isn’t Disclosure


The Hill highlights a problem that we’ve seen far too often with personal financial disclosures. Lawmakers do not always follow the rules in properly filling out these important disclosure forms. More often than not, the public is not privy to the lack of disclosure because oversight is spotty at best. Sometimes it takes an unfortunate story to point out what is lacking from a financial disclosure form:

Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) could face fines for leaving a heavily indebted mortgage off her financial disclosure statement, according to campaign finance experts.

A review of Richardson’s 2007 financial disclosure shows that she failed to report her Sacramento home mortgage as a liability even though she owed $40,000 more than she paid for the home, which was purchased in January of that year. By the end of 2007, Richardson had accumulated $575,000 in total debt after failing to make payments on her original $535,000 mortgage, according to Sacramento County records.

Financial disclosure laws require members of Congress to report home mortgages as liabilities if indebtedness exceeds the purchase prices of the item.

Normally, lawmakers are not required to list their personal homes or the mortgages they carry on that house. Richardson’s case, emblematic of a larger trend in contemporary American society, is different.

Personal financial disclosure forms are some of the most unreliable disclosure documents filed in Congress. Assets and liabilities are listed in value ranges, not exact numbers; information is left off, sometimes vitally important; sections are filled out incorrectly. Congress needs to reevaluate personal financial disclosure forms for future years with accuracy and transparency as fundamental values in crafting new forms. This should start with the oversight bodies, the Ethics Committees, who can provide leadership to the support bodies of the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate.