Pro Publica gets Stevens indictment online
It’s available here. Looks mostly like it concerns omissions from Stevens’ personal financial disclosure forms, though the big ticket item is Stevens’ help for Veco Corporation allegedly in exchange for gifts. When Sunlight released our Fortune 535 project on the personal financial disclosures, we said, “…take what follows with a boulder-sized grain of salt: It’s all based on information from the seriously flawed disclosure system used by members of Congress.”
One question I have: A lot of the alleged malfeasance revolves around a Stevens personal residence, the Girdwood residence or, as Stevens called it, “the chalet.” Obviously accepting a gift for the home would have to be reported, but the indictment also seems to be suggesting (I’m not sure it’s suggesting this) that these gifts were in fact gifts and couldn’t have been loans because:
51. The first page of the 2001 Financial Disclosure Form also contained the following
question, followed by boxes for “YES” and “NO”:
Did you, your spouse, or dependent child have any reportable liability (more than $10,000) in the reporting period? If yes, Complete and Attach PART VII.
On the 2001 Financial Disclosure Form, STEVENS checked the “NO” box, and did not attach a
completed Part VII form.
Again, I’m not sure, but from my quick read of the indictment, it appears that the government is suggesting that when Stevens says he has no liabilities of more than $10,000, that means the hundreds of thousands of dollars Stevens is alleged to have received as benefits from VECO couldn’t possibly have been loans. But if (and for the record, I doubt this is likely), if Stevens was borrowing money, labor and materials to renovate a residence from VECO rather than accepting it as a gift, I’m not sure Stevens would have to report it under current personal financial disclosure rules, which say,
property which is held or maintained solely for recreational or personal purposes does not have to be reported…. (p. 131)
Mortgages secured by a personal residence (including secondary residences) that are not used for rental purposes do not have to be disclosed. (p. 136)
Interestingly, the same passage goes on to say, “Personal loans secured by motor vehicles, household furniture, or appliances do not have to be disclosed, as long as the indebtedness does not exceed the purchase price of the item.” Stevens is accused of having accepted a car swap and household furnishings and not reporting them as gifts.
Suppose there was some understanding Stevens would repay Veco or its CEO, Bill Allen, for the home repairs, the car swap, the furniture and so on — shouldn’t the public know of those potential conflicts of interest? The indictment reminds us,
The primary purpose of the yearly Financial Disclosure Forms is to disclose, monitor and deter conflicts of interest, thereby maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the United States Senate and its Members. Because the yearly Financial Disclosure Forms require public disclosure of financial information by each Member of the United States Senate, such as income, assets, gifts, financial interests, and liabilities, the Forms provide the public at large, including the voters of a particular state, with the information necessary to allow the public to evaluate and consider official conduct by a Member of the United States Senate in light of that Member’s private finances.
Do the current disclosure requirements adequately “deter conflicts of interest, thereby maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the United States Senate and its Members,” if they exempt personal residences, mortgages, car loans and so on from public view?