The House has worked itself up into hysteria over LegiStorm’s recent release of staffer personal financial disclosures. There are demands in Congress for a taxpayer-financed lawsuit against us. http://thehill.com/leading-the-news/aides-private-info-exposed-2008-04-02.html
One House staffer has even gone so far as to suggest that LegiStorm aided and abetted in the burglary of his house. This has gone too far.
We have a solution for the mess of the House’s own making. First, to be clear:
- The U.S. Congress wrote the law that requires disclosure of personal finances to aid in the fight against public corruption.
- Congressional staffers were the ones who voluntarily filed what they did in their personal financial disclosures. In a handful of disclosures, a tiny fraction of the total, staffers included unnecessary personal details like investment account numbers and children names. Their signature is the only detail that they now most complain about that is required.
- The Congress made these documents public. It did so after a one-month review process that concluded, apparently, that nothing was wrong with their disclosure.
- Neither the House nor the Senate require any form of identification to access this information. Anybody can access it without talking to a single person and by simply entering a fake name into a computer.
- We have voluntarily gone to significant lengths and costs already to scrub the most sensitive of information released due to staffer slipups and ethics committee oversight. This includes investment account numbers and Social Security numbers. We did so without delay.
- We have voluntarily provided various security measures such as user registration and authentication, a legal warning (one that is not present on two other heavily trafficked web sites that have for years provided member of Congress disclosures), and a human response system to make sure that automated bots cannot access the data.
All these measures by us that are not legally required present an enormous burden for us as a company that for all intents and purposes has no existing revenue stream (our advertising on our entire site brings in less than $10 a day despite the notion by some staffers that we are raking in lots of money from the public service of releasing this data free to all users). And now House chiefs of staff want us to review thousands of individual filings to redact more things that they voluntarily put into the public record and are in most cases readily available from other public sources, including the telephone book?
There are three ready solutions if the House is genuine about its desire to protect staffers.
1) The House will make minor changes to the financial disclosure form so that the signature and address of staffers is disclosed only to the House and is not released publicly.
2) The House will review these forms for inadvertent disclosures.
3) The House should pay – only out-of-pocket costs, with no overhead or profit – for us to redact the past disclosures to their liking, assuming the redactions have no significant public disclosure consequences.
This solution would certainly save the taxpayers over the alternative of the House foolishly bringing the frivolous lawsuit that many chiefs of staff appear to demand.