Guilt by Omission

The Federal Government Has Failed to Comply With Three Key Disclosure Requirements From 2007 Ethics Law

By Taylor Lincoln

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It is vital to democracy that the public have an understanding of who is trying to influence our government. The near-daily revelations of conflicts of interest across the Trump administration serve as an ever-present reminder of the need for transparency. While far from perfect, disclosure requirements yield valuable information.

For instance, it was due to disclosure requirements that the public learned that Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price had engaged in numerous trades of health company stocks while he served on a House subcommittee with purview over health care companies. Likewise, a law requiring lobbyists to disclose their work on behalf of foreign governments led to Michael Flynn, formerly Trump’s national security adviser, belatedly revealing that he lobbied for a business with ties to the Turkish government.

But the systems the government uses to carry out transparency mandates are often cumbersome and outdated, hampering the public’s ability to access the information within them. At times, these systems violate both the letter and spirit of public disclosure laws. This report looks at three key public disclosure requirements the government fails to meet from the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA), the last major ethics law passed by Congress. They are:

  • Lobbying disclosure concerning foreign agents;
  • U.S. House members’ stock trading; and
  • Privately funded congressional travel.

While these shortcomings predate both the Trump administration and the current congressional leadership, it is incumbent upon those currently in power to fix the problems with these disclosure systems. This is especially imperative given heightened concerns about foreign influences on the government and the Trump administration’s cavalier attitude toward ethics customs.