LegiStorm maintains a repository of thousands of personal financial disclosures of members of Congress and their staff. These disclosures are public information we collected from both the House and the Senate public document rooms and have put online for the first time.
Who must file
The Ethics in Government Act requires that all members of Congress must file, as well as certain key staffers. Officers and employees earning at least 120 percent of the federal GS-15 base level salary, or a little more than $111,000 in 2007, must file. If nobody earns that amount, the member of Congress must designate a “principal assistant” who must file. In addition, senators must designate anyone who handles political campaign funds as someone who must file.
When must they file
The yearly deadline for these reports is May 15. In addition to these “annual” reports, employees are also required to submit “new hire” and “termination” reports when their employment status changes, but termination reports are unnecessary if the employee is going to another job in the federal government which requires financial disclosure submission.If the respective House and Senate ethics committees require additional information is needed, separate “amendment” forms can be submitted.
What must they disclose
The personal financial disclosure forms crafted by the House and Senate ask members and staffers to identify a range of financial information that might identify possible conflicts of interest with their official duties. It includes assets, debts, earned income, prior employment, agreements, gifts and positions held.
The Ethics in Government Act as Amended, 5 U.S.C. Appendix 6, Sec. 105 (c) (1), states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to obtain or use a report for any unlawful purpose, commercial purpose, other than by news and communications media for disseminating to the general public, determining or establishing a credit rating of an individual, or for use directly or indirectly, in the solicitation of money for any political, charitable, or other purpose.”
For more information
LegiStorm focused on staffers who work for members of Congress, committees and leadership offices, although we have a few other disclosures for people in our database. We ignored peripheral agencies like the Government Printing Office, the Government Accountability Office and the Capitol Police since we have no staff data for these agencies.
We have gathered all disclosures filed since the beginning of 2007, including new hiring reports, annual filings and termination reports. We also acquired a number of reports from before 2007, especially if no 2007 reports were found for a staffer, but we can make no claims about the comprehensiveness of this prior data.
We have reviewed all staffer financial disclosures on our site to determine if any items in the disclosure deserves bit more public scrutiny. In such cases, we entered the data into our database and this information will appear as a text note on our staffer disclosure pages. This is ultimately a subjective measure and should not indicate anything untoward. We focused on several aspects of the filing, including spouse employment, earned income outside congressional work (campaign-related and non-campaign-related), prior employment, positions held, agreements with private parties, compensation greater than $5,000 and gifts provided.
Spouse employment – We ignored routine work and focused on work for interest groups and political organizations and where an employer’s name sounded like it might be an advocacy or company doing lobbying. This screen might have missed some instances where spouses are really lobbyists but whose company or organization is primarily not focused on lobbying (i.e. Nike, whose primary activity is making athletic gear but which has lobbyists). Likewise, this screen probably includes many spouses who have no role in lobbying or policy advocacy whatsoever and instead work for companies that happen to lobby on behalf of others, such as many law firms in Washington. The financial disclosures simply don’t reveal the precise nature of the spouse’s employment. While there are many imperfections in this data set, we include it in case it spurs useful inquiries.
Earned income (campaign-related) – We included every instance we found of a staffer, or a spouse, working for a political campaign.
Earned income (non-campaign-related) – We included outside income if it was potentially policy-related. We did not include bar-tending or other such outside jobs where little potential existed for conflict of interest.
Prior employment – We included prior employment in cases where the organization was likely to have positions on matters of potential concern to the Congress.
Positions held – We ignored leadership in civic and local associations like the Boy Scouts and homeowners groups and instead focused on ones that might have some bearing on matters of interest to the Congress. Note that sometimes these positions were held prior to congressional employment.
Agreements – Typically, these are agreements about future employment. We particularly noted any role that might take advantage of the knowledge and contacts gained from congressional work.
Compensation greater than $5,000 – We included this where public scrutiny might be warranted.
Gifts – We noted instances where public scrutiny might be warranted.
Each May 15, annual filings are due from staffers and members who meet the disclosure requirement. The annual filing covers the previous year’s financial circumstances. Terminology differs in the House and the Senate but we rely on the year that the annual report is due in as the year of the filing. Thus, we term it a 2007 annual filing for any filing made for the 2006 year but filed in 2007.
However, new filings and termination filings are dated based on the year of the start or end date of the filer's employment, not the actual year filed.