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Reform Groups Warn Federal Ethics Agency Not to Weaken Ethics Rules

Feb. 14, 2005

Reform Groups Warn Federal Ethics Agency Not to Weaken Ethics Rules

Proposals to Gut Personal Financial Reporting Requirements for Senior-Level Government Employees Raise Conflict of Interest Concerns

WASHINGTON, D.C. A non-partisan, ideologically diverse coalition of 10 reform groups has submitted testimony to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) urging the agency not to weaken personal financial disclosure requirements for senior-level government employees. The coalition consists of Public Citizen, Common Cause, the Center for Responsive PoliticsDemocracy 21, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Center for Corporate PolicyPublic CampaignOMB Watch, the Campaign Legal Center and Judicial Watch.

The Bush administration and its congressional friends don’t want a full and thorough evaluation of appointees and therefore want to dump a number of the current financial reporting requirements, which would allow nominees, appointees and senior-level officials a great deal of secrecy regarding their finances.

The OGE is considering capping the reporting of personal wealth at $2.5 million, not requiring the disclosure of the itineraries of trips paid for by special interest groups, and allowing officials to omit the dates of major stock transactions from financial reports.

“Cutting back on the personal financial disclosure requirements of appointees is being offered as ‘streamlining’ the process, but this is entirely the wrong way to address the problem,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “It is really nothing more than an attempt to cloak the sources and amount of wealth of senior-level officials.”

The coalition has warned the OGE that its proposals for gutting   the personal financial requirements will hide important financial records that could reveal relationships between senior-level government employees and business interests that create conflicts of interest – all the while providing very little time-saving benefit to the appointment process. The groups called for:

  • Maintaining the disclosure requirements of wealth held by government officials up to and exceeding $50 million, an amount frequently held by top presidential appointees, instead of capping disclosure at $2.5 million.
  • Maintaining the requirement to report all dates of major stock transactions so as to flag potential insider trading by officials knowledgeable of pending government contracts.
  • Publishing requests and approvals of waivers for officials seeking outside employment so that Congress may be aware of possible conflicts of interest when these officials are negotiating legislation.
  • Placing these financial records on the Internet through an electronic reporting system.

“Right now, not enough financial information about government officials is reported to the public,” said Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen. “Stories abound of scandal between government officials and private businesses, including the somewhat murky story of the business relationship between Vice President Dick Cheney, who is helping lead the war effort, and his business interests in Halliburton Co., a major recipient of government defense contracts.”

Following a legislative effort last year by House Republican leaders to weaken the personal financial disclosure requirements of national security officials in the intelligence reform bill (H.R. 10), an effort that was unsuccessful because of congressional and watchdog group opposition, the final House-Senate conference agreement instead required further study of the issue by OGE. The groups’ written testimony was submitted by Friday’s deadline at the request of OGE as part of the study.

To read the public comment submitted by the groups, click here.