Asset Disclosure and Transparency

Asset disclosure can help answer questions about the basic integrity of government officials. This dataset, which includes information about the financial stakes of government officials that could impact their decisions, is not often released as open data on the local level. The format in which it is shared varies greatly among those local governments that do release the information online. Exploring the current landscape of local asset disclosures shows the narratives this dataset can empower and where there is room for improvement in its release.

Sunlight Research and Blogs on Asset Disclosure

Asset Disclosure Data Research — This editable research document explores which cities release information about asset disclosures, who uses the data, and more.

The Landscape of Municipal Asset Disclosure — Find out how local governments are sharing asset disclosures online.

Asset Disclosure Recommendations

Recommendations for Stronger Asset Disclosure Data — While asset disclosure, by its nature, includes some sensitive information and can vary greatly from place to place, there are a few steps that could be taken to improve the openness of this data, improving opportunities for analysis and reuse. Many of these ideas can be found in our Open Data Policy Guidelines.

  1. Require disclosed information to be published online — In this age of technology, public information should be posted online. This provides the public access to important information without the time and cost of making a public records request. It also saves government officials time and money by proactively posting information rather than providing it on an as-requested basis. Asset disclosures should be shared online through a central portal that includes important context information about ordinances impacting disclosures, shining a light on details like who has to disclose and when. These portals can help ensure permanent, lasting access to the information and should come without restrictions on accessing and reusing the data, subject to minimal exceptions.

  2. Publish information as open, structured data — Publishing information in an open format ensures that information is in a machine-readable, or structured, format, making it easy to search and sort. This increases opportunities for the public to analyze and reuse the data.

  3. Require electronic filingElectronic filing means gathering information in an electronic format from the beginning of the disclosure process, enabling easier sharing of data in open formats with the public. E-filing, as it is sometimes called, makes asset disclosure a simpler process for those filing and for those collecting and sharing the data. It is easier for governments to collect data this way rather than reading handwritten forms and spending time putting that information into a computer (which can result in inaccuracies, too). It’s also easier for filers to have a consistent, online, easy-to-access interface for submitting information.

  4. Release information in real-time — Releasing asset disclosures in real time can help empower public oversight of potential conflicts of interest as government decisions approach rather than after decisions have been made. Even monthly or quarterly updates to disclosure would be better than requiring only annual or semi-annual reports, which can grow out of date quickly as a person’s assets change. E-filing would help ensure that more frequent reporting does not need to mean a repetitive process: filers could simply update existing forms with any relevant changes since the last reporting deadline.

  5. Publish bulk data — Allowing asset disclosures to be downloaded in bulk — meaning all of the information can be exported at once — maximizes opportunities for analysis across individual filings, helping to draw out narratives about influence. Bulk downloads also work with open, structured formats to allow for easy analysis and reuse of data.

  6. Appropriately safeguard sensitive information — By the nature of asset disclosures, some of the information from these documents is sensitive. That is why some disclosures are only made internally within governments on an as-needed basis, as potential conflicts of interest arise. Disclosure procedures can also be impacted by factors such as the level of responsibility or the stage of a project — sometimes asset disclosures are part of a job negotiation, for example. Those who hold information from asset disclosures need to think about redacting information that could infringe on the privacy or security of those associated with the data, but the exemptions should not be a barrier to data release. Any exemptions to public disclosure should be balance-tested against the public interest in accessing that information.

The Impact of Opening Up Asset Disclosure Data

Opening up information about asset disclosures empowers narratives highlighting potential conflicts of interest in the government decision-making process, helping keep a check on corruption. Learn more below and on our blog.

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