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Financial Disclosure Reports Show 25% Error Rate

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Rep. Brian Bilbray has already submitted four amendments to the financial disclosure form he filed last year, and he is working on a fifth amendment. The various forms show wildly disparate valuations of his wife’s tax services business.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who topped Roll Call’s list of the richest freshmen in Congress with a net worth of at least $64 million, has amended his financial disclosure forms three times since he first filed last April. In the first corrected filing, submitted in June, he added 14 additional footnotes describing his vast array of real estate holdings and investment accounts. In August, the Connecticut Democrat added details about real estate assets worth $15,001 to $50,000. In October, Blumenthal submitted three more footnotes that listed details about three investment funds that together could be worth as much as $800,000.

Mitchell said voluntary amendments are inevitable given the complexity of the process and should not be viewed as a sign of wrongdoing.

“When people find additional information, it should be encouraged, not discouraged,” said Mitchell, who was not speaking about any lawmaker specifically. “I don’t think amendments should be frowned upon.”

Members of the House Ethics Committee, which publishes the rule book governing financial disclosure, have themselves been confused by the disclosure forms. Texas GOP Reps. Mike Conaway and  Michael McCaul amended their initial filings last year, as did Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who joined the committee this year.

Ethics ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) failed to disclose royalties from a book she wrote with sister Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) for more than two years and did not report the necessary details about mortgages and lines of home equity credit for properties she rented out, flaws first reported by Politico. A spokesman for Sánchez said she amended her financial disclosures and has submitted drafts to the committee, though they have not yet been posted online.

“The Congresswoman prepared her amendments to her FDs immediately after recognizing the omissions and small errors,” Communications Director Adam Hudson said. “Congresswoman Sanchez sought additional guidance related to publishing agreements, because the Committee had made changes to the reporting requirements for two of the years that will also impact the FD she will file this year.”

Some lawmakers discovered problems with prior forms as they were readying disclosures due this year.

Rep. Fred Upton said he noticed in late April that he had erroneously omitted five life insurance policies from his prior-year disclosures. Collectively, the five policies are worth at least $181,000 and will be included on this year’s disclosure form.

“As I began to prepare to file for my 2010 Financial Disclosure Report, I reviewed the top 10 Financial Disclosure Mistakes flier that was included and noted I [had] mistakenly not included the life insurance policies that my wife and I hold,” the Michigan Republican said in a letter of explanation to the Clerk of the House.

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