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Federal bill seeks to require members of Congress e-file financial disclosures, citing report illegibility

A review of financial disclosure forms submitted by some U.S. Representatives discovered provider names are difficult or nearly impossible to read.

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Congressman Dusty Johnson, R-S.D. speaks at a Rotary Club meeting in his hometown of Mitchell, South Dakota, in January 2022.
Mitchell Republic file photo
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WASHINGTON — A new federal bill seeks to require members of Congress file their public financial disclosures electronically, citing the illegibility of some reports and a need for modernization in government.

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Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.
Eric Connolly U.S. House Office of Photography

The Easy to Read Electronic and Accessible Disclosures (READ) Act, introduced Tuesday, Sept. 20, by U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., would require the e-filing of disclosure forms relating to the finances of congresspeople in an effort to boost transparency to and accountability from constituents across the country.

Under current rules and regulations, U.S. representatives and senators have the option of completing their public financial disclosures — including annual required reporting and periodic transaction reports — either by hand or electronically.

In May, a Business Insider report accused some members of Congress of publishing “comically illegible” financial disclosure reports, targeting California Democrats for submitting stock-trade reports that “more closely [resemble] black blotches of ink than actual words and numbers.”

Specifically, the report included a copy of a financial disclosure report filed by Rep. Rohit Khanna, D-Calif., in May. The file appears to have been completed using a computer, though some provider names are difficult or impossible to make out.

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Spanberger said the proposal would be a common sense step toward increasing public transparency from members of Congress.

“Poor penmanship shouldn’t be the enemy of transparency. As discussions about potential conflicts of interest in the halls of Congress continue, we need to take common sense steps to make it easier for the general public to sort through the disclosures of their Representatives and Senators,” Spanberger said. “Our Easy to READ Act does just that: it would allow the American people to search, sort, and download data for every Member of Congress — not just those who chose to use a computer to submit these documents. By making this change, we can increase transparency, and help rebuild a degree of trust in our democracy.”

Echoing Spanberger, Johnson argued that the bill could address Congress’ issue regarding public trust.

“This bill is common sense. Requiring these disclosures to be made electronically will not only modernize Congress but increase transparency and accountability of Members to the American people,” Johnson said. “Congress has a public trust problem, and we should do all we can to ensure our constituents have faith in their elected officials.”

Under the act, the web interface for this e-file system would be required to comply with the Rehabilitation Act and the most recent Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, so that disclosures are accessible for Americans with disabilities.

“Government is only as effective as it is open and accessible. This means that government records, including financial disclosures filed by elected officials, must be easy to find and easy to understand,” said Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, government affairs manager of the Project On Government Oversight. “These requirements will help bring critical transparency to the financial situation of members of Congress and more opportunity to spot potential conflicts of interest.”

After the bill’s introduction on Tuesday, it was referred to the Committee on House Administration for further review.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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