How do you know if a retiring Representative is negotiating for their next job while working at their current one? As a practical matter, you likely do not.
Under House Rule XXVII (PDF), Representatives and senior staff must file a form with the House Ethics Committee within 3 business days of the commencement of direct negotiations or any agreement of future employment or compensation. Although the “Notification of Negotiations or Agreement for Future Employment” form (PDF) must include the name of the private entity involved in the negotiations and the date those negotiations started, the rules do not provide for public disclosure.
So how do you know if a Representative or staffer working on the people’s business has a conflict of interest with his or her future employer? For staff, there’s no way for the public to know. The situation is only slightly better for Representatives, who are required to “recuse himself or herself from any matter in which there is a conflict of interest or an appearance” and file a “Statement of Recusal” form (PDF) with the House Ethics Committee. When the conflict arises, the Member also must submit to the Clerk of the House the original “Notification of Negotiations or Agreement for Future Employment” form for public review.
The “public review” is essentially in name only. The only way to review the Negotiation Notification form is to go to the House Legislative Resource Center, located in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building, between 9-6pm Monday to Friday. There you can photocopy the forms, for a fee. The office will not fax you the form, email you the form, or answer questions over the phone about what forms have been filed.
According to Roll Call, 20 members of the House of Representatives are retiring this year (of which one is running for another House seat) — with most announcing their retirements months ago. A review conducted this past Thursday showed that no Representative has filed a Negotiation Notification form since 2008.
It seems pretty obvious that Notification of Negotiation Forms should be made publicly available at the time they’re filed, without waiting for the official Recusal Form to be filed. But these forms should also be available online for inspection. There’s only a handful of filings each year, and very little effort would be required to post them online on the Clerk’s website.
These forms are just the tip of the iceberg. Both Houses of Congress require a number of ethics forms to be filed and made publicly available, but neither the House nor the Senate does a good job of making them available online. Today’s Washington Post had several good stories on how difficult it is to obtain these ethics filings, and how it takes laborious efforts for outside groups to transform hundreds of pages of print-outs into a database the public can use. This is particularly infuriating since many of these files already exist in an electronic format that must be printing out page-by-page instead of copying onto a CD or thumb drive.
The disclosure rules are a decent step towards making Congress more transparent, but for these ethics rules to have real bite, these forms must be available online, in real time, and in machine-readable formats.