History of congressional disclosure of tax returns is spotty

 

McClatchy Newspapers

Congress seldom has volunteered to require its members to disclose more of their finances.

Members of Congress have never been required to disclose their tax returns in public. For much of the Senate’s existence, members simply put their tax returns in sealed envelopes that were kept for private record. That was the extent of financial disclosure.

In fact, voters didn’t even choose members of the Senate for the nation’s first 137 years. Financial scandals early in the 20th century changed that, revealing conflicts of interest and patronage when state legislatures chose the wealthy or their surrogates to serve.

“Quite frankly, direct election didn’t change things,” Senate historian Donald Ritchie said. “It had some impact, but the first election, held in 1914, all the incumbents that were running got re-elected. The voters didn’t choose a different set of people than the legislatures did.”

Public pressure for greater financial disclosure returned at the end of World War II.

In 1946, there were revelations that key members of the House of Representatives and Senate agriculture committees had received inside information that they’d turned into profit by investing in commodities. That’s similar to the behavior of lawmakers during the 2008 financial crisis, who, after private meetings with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, took steps to protect their investments based on knowledge that the American public lacked.

President Harry S Truman pressed for financial disclosure, and a congressional report in 1951 offered a number of recommendations that were never adopted.

Financial scandal gripped the Senate again in the 1960s, but a bill requiring detailed financial disclosure was defeated in 1964.

It wasn’t until the Nixon administration’s Watergate scandal that Congress tackled a serious revamp of ethics rules, leading to the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which prevails today.

After revelations that some members had cashed in during the 2008 financial crisis, Congress passed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act this spring. It forces members to report online any financial transactions valued above $1,000 within 30 to 45 days of the transactions.

Email: khall@mcclatchydc.com, Twitter: @KevinGHall

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
FILE - This Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, file photo, taken in Washington, shows part of the HealthCare.gov website page featuring information about the SHOP Marketplace. People who have accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama’s signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government’s vulnerability to the confounding Heartbleed computer virus. Senior administration officials said there is no indication that the HealthCare.gov site has been compromised and the action is being taken out of an abundance of caution.

    Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

    People who have accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the confounding Heartbleed Internet security flaw.

  • Clinton has big lead in N.H., but most people haven't finished deciding

    Hillary Clinton is way ahead of other Democrats in the New Hampshire race for the 2016 presidential nomination and Republicans are scrambled--but most voters are far from deciding.

  •  
Tokyo, Japan

    On upcoming trip, Obama will try to pivot to Asia - again

    President Barack Obama will leave Tuesday for a four-nation trip to Asia, looking to recharge a focus on the region, an ambitious initiative that’s been sidetracked by domestic politics and international conflicts elsewhere.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category