BUSINESS INSIDER, BRYAN METZGER
A bipartisan duo of House members will introduce a bill on Tuesday to require members of Congress to file financial disclosures electronically, according to a release shared exclusively with Insider.
Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota are introducing the Easy to Read Electronic and Accessible Disclosures (READ) Act, which would allow users to search, sort, and download financial disclosure data filed by House members, Senators, and candidates for both chambers.
The simple, two-page bill would also ensure that the resulting user interface is accessible to people with disabilities by mandating compliance with the Rehabilitation Act.
As Insider’s Dave Levinthal reported in May, members of Congress are currently allowed to submit their yearly financial disclosures — as well as periodic reports on their stock trades — via paper on a pre-printed form.
That’s led to lots of members submitting disclosures that are essentially impossible to read.
Retiring Republican Rep. Fred Upton, for example, often hand-writes his reports.
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California files reports that his office claims are legible when filed, only to appear garbled when uploaded electronically.
“[Khanna] is committed to transparency and looking into options to make it easier to read the scan of his disclosure forms in the future,” spokesperson Marie Baldassarre told Insider in May. “The originals he files are always very legible.”
“Poor penmanship shouldn’t be the enemy of transparency,” said Spanberger in the release. “By making this change, we can increase transparency and help rebuild a degree of trust in our democracy.”
“This bill is commonsense,” said Johnson in the release. “Congress has a public trust problem, and we should do all we can to ensure our constituents have faith in their elected officials.”
The bill has been endorsed by outside advocacy groups across the political spectrum, including the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), Public Citizen, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Taxpayers Protection Alliance, National Taxpayers Union, and FreedomWorks.
“Government is only as effective as it is open and accessible,” said Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, a government affairs manager at POGO. “This means that government records, including financial disclosures filed by elected officials, must be easy to find and easy to understand.”
“These requirements will help bring critical transparency to the financial situation of members of Congress and more opportunity to spot potential conflicts of interest,” added Hedtler-Gaudette.
The bill comes amid a broader push to ban members of Congress from trading stocks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated last week that a bill banning trading could come to the floor this month, though some lawmakers in her own party are skeptical that will happen.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon told Insider last week that a consensus bill to tackle the issue wouldn’t come until after the midterms.