Post politicians’ disclosure reports online

The OlympianMay 1, 2014 

The Public Disclosure Commission should take advantage of an opportunity to improve public access to the financial records of elected officials and candidates.

The move is a fairly simple one: Post politicians’ yearly disclosure reports, known as F1 statements, on the PDC website for all to see.

Under existing protocol, the reports are available for public review, but someone has to file a request to review them. Historically, the disclosure commission has opted to provide a semblance of privacy for elected officials, candidates and certain state employees when it comes to their financial records.

But the fact remains: These are public records, information state law requires officials to file with the PDC. Upon running for office, all candidates know the public has a right to peruse the data. There’s no good reason to list the information behind a thin veil of secrecy.

Some 5,600 elected officials and state employees who work for the Legislature and state government executives file F1s each year. The information includes income, real estate ownership, details about financial and business relationships and disclosure of government contracts that may benefit them.

The Public Disclosure Commission can make the financial data even more meaningful by adjusting the reporting parameters for personal finances. Finances are now reported within a range of values that are outdated. For instance, the top dollar figure of $100,000 doesn’t mean too much when almost any home is worth more. And the category of $100,000 or more in a retirement account is not too meaningful, especially when some financial planners are telling people $1 million may not be enough to live comfortably in retirement.

If any data is to be withheld from an easy, online search, the burden is on those filing to convince the PDC there are legitimate concerns about safety and security. That will be a hard case to make.

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