Editorial: Legislators’ financial-affairs statements should be made readily available
Elected officials’ personal financial-affairs statements should be posted online.
Seattle Times Editorial
THE state Public Disclosure Commission should move into the 21st century and start posting online the personal financial-affairs statements that legislators and other public officials must file each year, as required by law.
The reports, called F-1s, contain information about income, assets and debts. The information is often frustratingly vague; nonetheless citizens should have ready access to it as they seek to understand the role money plays in politics.
But, while the PDC makes available on its website the campaign-finance and lobbyist reports it collects, the agency has declined to do likewise with the F-1s, citing a misplaced concern for officials’ privacy.
The reports often contain the names of officials’ spouses and children, a PDC spokeswoman told The Times’ Jim Brunner. But children don’t need to be identified on F-1s unless they are dependents and their incomes or assets exceed certain thresholds.
And in many cases, the names of officials’ spouses and children are readily available elsewhere: on legislators’ websites, for instance, or in their campaign brochures.
The F-1s also frequently include officials’ home addresses — but they don’t have to. Filers can identify their real-estate holdings instead by assessor parcel number or legal description. And the PDC can — and does — exempt officials such as judges from identifying their property at all if there are legitimate concerns about personal safety.
Plus, once again, such information often can be found elsewhere.
Probably the most compelling argument for posting F-1s online is that if some miscreant really wants a report, he or she already can get it. The PDC provides the statements upon request.
Citizens seeking information about their elected officials shouldn’t have to ask. At least 29 states make lawmakers’ personal financial-affairs statements available online. Washington should join them.
The risks can be easily managed. And the benefits — easier citizen access to important public records, for starters — greatly outweigh them.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).