Q. I have a question about your recent article on how House ethics rules could be affected by the Supreme Courtís decision on the Defense of Marriage Act. I am in a same-sex marriage with a House staffer that the law recognizes in our state. My question concerns the financial disclosure forms my spouse must file each year with the House. I know that these forms generally ask for information concerning the filer and the filerís spouse but that this has never applied to same-sex spouses. I am a private person and donít like the idea of the public knowing about my financial affairs. While my spouse and I of course were elated about the Supreme Court decision, I am concerned that it might mean he must start including my information on his disclosure forms. Does it?
A. Another good question. The full consequences of the Supreme Courtís decision regarding DOMA are still playing out and will likely continue to for quite some time. In this case, the potential consequences relate to the Ethics in Government Act, which requires members and some senior staffers to file annual financial disclosure forms with the Clerk of the House. The forms must be filed by all staffers who meet a certain pay grade, and it sounds like your spouse is just such a staffer.
According to the House Ethics Manual, the financial disclosure requirement was created in part to address the suspicion that public officials might use their positions to promote their own welfare instead of the publicís. Financial disclosure, the manual says, provides a way for the public to monitor and deter conflicts of interest. It is intended to provide the public with ďinformation necessary to allow Membersí constituencies to judge their official conduct in light of possible financial conflicts with private holdings.Ē
Broadly, financial disclosure forms contain information about the filerís outside income, gifts, assets, liabilities, investments and certain outside positions held. The forms also contain this information about the filerís spouse. The annual deadline for filing the forms is usually in May, although newly hired staffers above the pay grade that triggers the disclosure requirement must also file reports within 30 days of being hired.
In addition to these forms, members and highly paid staffers must file periodic transaction reports (or PTRs) whenever they buy or sell stock worth more than $1,000. And they must also file PTRs whenever their spouse or dependent children make such stock transactions. These requirements were created by last yearís STOCK Act, which revised the Ethics in Government Act to address concerns about potential insider trading by members and staffers. PTRs must be filed within 30 days of the filer becoming aware of a reportable transaction or within 45 days of the date of the transaction itself, whichever is earlier.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.