Just days after the Senate officially rejected an attempt by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to let him continue practicing medicine, Coburn’s chief of staff, Michael Schwartz, went to the chamber’s Office of Public Records to view the financial statements of all 99 other Senators, according to records reviewed by Roll Call.
To the conspiracy-minded, Schwartz’s trip suggests an effort to arm the famously prickly Coburn with dirt on colleagues who just denied him his long-sought desire to keep his medical practice operational. But Schwartz said Friday that there was nothing nefarious in his decision to copy the records.
“I went and got those records to read over the recess,” he said. “I did not find them all that interesting, but now I know what financial reports look like,” Schwartz said.
When told of Schwartz’s visit, however, some complained that it had, at the very least, the appearance of a fishing expedition for potentially embarrassing financial information on Coburn’s colleagues.
“It’s outrageous. What ever happened to the comity of the Senate?” asked one longtime Democratic aide.
Although financial disclosure forms are fully available to the public, the financial statements — especially all 100 in the chamber — are rarely reviewed except by a few insider news outlets and watchdog groups, usually once or twice a year.
Indeed, a cursory examination of the office’s viewer log indicated that other than campaign finance groups such as PoliticalMoneyLine.com, Schwartz is one of the only people to have ever actually pulled all 100 Members’ statements.
The use of Senate records has come into sharper focus as the chamber debates new limits on — and disclosure requirements for — lobbying.
On Thursday, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, (R-Ga.) gave a blistering floor speech denouncing the use of Senate travel records, complaining that PoliticalMoneyLine.com had misinterpreted them to make it appear as if he’d taken far more trips than he had. In the speech, Chambliss also revealed that the cost of several of the trips he took that were paid for by corporations included the travel expenses of several of his fellow lawmakers.
Although Chambliss did not name the colleagues in question, his accusation does raise questions about whether they had also reported the trips and whether Members routinely reported other lawmakers’ travel costs as their own.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.