The public comment period for this legislation has ended.

Transparency in Government Act 2008

10 section comments

Title I - Access to Information About Members of Congress

Sec. 101. Greater disclosure and electronic filing of personal financial information.

Current rules relating to personal financial disclosure reports allow for broad and imprecise reporting of the value of assets and liabilities. Requiring lawmakers to report precise values would provide a clearer understanding of the financial interests a Member might have in a particular issue. Electronic filing of the reports would save time and resources by eliminating the need to re-enter information that is already entered and maintained in a database, and would streamline the process to allow the reports to be available for public access on the Internet in a timely fashion. The reports were designed to be public, but, so far, only the House has agreed to post its Members' reports on the Web. In the Senate, the reports are only available to people with the means to photocopy the reports in Washington, DC. See HR 170, 110th Congress.

  1. Financial Disclosures- Section 102(d) of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 is amended by adding at the end the following new paragraph: `(3) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, in the case of reports of Members of Congress and officers and employees of Congress filed pursuant to sections 101(d) and (e), references to the categories for reporting the amount or value of the items covered in paragraphs (1), (3), (4), (5), and (8) of subsection (a) shall be deemed to be exact dollar amounts as determined by fair market value, tax returns, bank statements, or other means.’

  2. Personal Financial Disclosure reports shall disclose:

    1. the affiliations of Members (and their spouses and adult children) with political action committees and other political organizations such as "Leadership" PACs, whether registered at the Federal or state level, as well as with any 501©(3) or 501©(4) organizations, and

    2. the employment or other economic relationships with entities, of the spouse, siblings, and adult children of Members of Congress.

  3. Mandatory Electronic Filing of Personal Financial Reports.

    1. IN GENERAL- The Rules of the House and the Senate are amended to provide the following: `each person required to file a report under this Act shall be required to maintain and file such report in electronic form accessible by computers.’

  4. Availability of Reports on the Internet- Section 103 of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 is amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:

    `(l) A copy of each report filed under this title with the Clerk of the House of Representatives or the Secretary of the Senate shall be made available to the general public on the Internet within 48 hours of filing in a format that is searchable, sortable, and downloadable.’

  5. Effective Date- The amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply to reports filed for calendar years beginning after the date of enactment of this Act.

  6. DIRECTORY- The Superintendent of Documents, under the Direction of the Public Printer in the Government Printing Office, shall include information about the documents made available on the Internet under this section in the electronic directory of Federal electronic information required by section 4101(a)(1) of title 44, United States Code.

General Comments on Transparency in Government Act 2008

Chuck Fellows on April 4, 2008

(d) Add "... is in plain english, searchable....."

I hope the purpose is to provide information that is understandable. You might also consider a requirement to provide contact information for questions.

anonymous on April 4, 2008

Nothing will offend Members of Congress and staff more than a requirement to disclose the contents of their checking accounts down to the penny. No other ethics filings requires this level of specificity. This is a great way to start off a bill so as to assure that Members will hate it. If you don't like the current categories, then suggest amendments. This is just plain dumb.

anonymous on April 4, 2008

These proposal suggest repeatedly that the rules of the house and senate be amended. The amendments are technically incompetent. If you want to amend the rules, then find a rule and propose an amendment just like you would do for a law. Rule ABC, section DEF is amended by adding ....etc.

This crude approach makes you look very amateurish.

anonymous on April 4, 2008

Paragraph c sayd "The Rules of the House and the Senate are amended to provide the following: `each person required to file a report under this Act shall be required to maintain and file such report in electronic form accessible by computers.'"

You want each person to file a report on his or her own computer? And how about making it available for free. I can comply with this requirement by putting the report on a computer and charging $5000 for access. Anybody here know how to draft ANYTHING?

John Wonderlich, Sunlight Foundation on April 4, 2008

To anonymous, above:

Thanks for your comments.

You'll notice that the entire point of the site is to take the input of people who are "amateurish", and don't actually "know how to draft ANYTHING", and turn it into something effective and useful, since even amateurs without legislative drafting experience have valuable input, as is obvious by the value of the comments on this bill.

In fact, both of your comments are valuable, despite being dismissive-- addressing them in order:

As to the rules revisions, we realize that they would need to be rewritten, although that's not stopping a valuable conversation about how they should be changed.

As far as your comment on paragraph (c), I'm not sure I see your point, since the rules require the files to be go to the clerk (or Secretary of the Senate, and for the clerk to make them public. So mandating electronic filing doesn't need to include a public component, since the reports are then made public in a timely way, as enabled by the electronic filing.

Terry ODonnell on April 4, 2008

I am a little confused by the language of b.2, specifically, the word "entities" seems to hang out there all by itself with no prior definition or reference. Is it supposed to refer to the organizations described in b.1?

Also,I wonder why it is necessary to try for an exact dollar valuation of assets. I should think it sufficient that one should declare all ownership interests, and state the percentage of their interest in any partnership, their equity share of any limited partnership or LLC, and the approximate percentage of shares owned by them, their spouse, siblings and children in any corporation that may do business witht the government. Although "anonymous" could perhaps benefit from some instruction in courtesy, he or she makes a good point about the breadth of the disclosure requirement. I think the amount in someone's personal checking/savings account is none of the public's business.

John Q. Public on April 13, 2008

So as to accomodate 99% of Americans not trained in law, I suggest a simple procedure that all can understand and evaluate: Require every person in or running for any public office, under the penalty of perjury, to: 1.Post on one special gov website all of their assets over $300,000; 2.Update the post each July they are in office; 3.During and after tenure, post all direct and indirect business dealings with all entities affected by actions they made while in office.

Whoever is not willing to make such an effort, is not worthy to serve.

ObamaSan on April 15, 2008

In regards to your clause -

"exact dollar amounts as determined by fair market value, tax returns, bank statements, or other means.'

"Or other means" - leaves a loophole large enough to drive a mac truck through. You had better be specific as to the "exact" means that they must prove this, otherwise your term "exact dollar amounts" will not be what you intend.

Which is, I believe, to be a value as of a specific date. Dollars change in value, assets change in FMV, tax returns are a good benchmark, but can cover a wider range than April 15 of each year.

I would suggest that you rewrite this "exact dollar amount" to be more inline with a value as of a specific date, and list the expected means of valuing each asset.

This may help you reach a more precise means of accounting for "value."