The House today followed the Senate's lead and delayed a rule requiring the financial holdings of some senior government workers and their spouses to be posted online.
Meeting in a pro forma session, the House adopted by unanimous consent the same language the Senate passed before recessing on Sept. 22 that delays the posting of the information until Dec. 8.
The disclosure requirement, part of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, mandates that all federal employees paid at the senior staff rate of $119,553 must supply records, including spousal assets, which will then be posted online, giving the public the ability to search through their assets, liabilities and trading history. Previously, such information was available only by written request.
The delay will give the Office of Personnel Management time to assess if the online posting requirement - which covers senior staff in both the legislative and executive branches - compromises the privacy and financial security of the workers.
Rory Cooper, communications director for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said delaying the rule was the only solution before Election Day with both chambers in recess. The delay has the effect of shielding President Barack Obama's political appointees from the more public online disclosure requirements before the election, Cooper said.
"We were working with Democratic lawmakers in good faith to come up with a bipartisan solution," Cooper said. "The desire by some in the Senate to shield Obama appointees from immediate disclosure is disappointing, and the House will continue to fight for greater transparency."
A Democratic aide, however, said the delay was approved by unanimous consent in both chambers because all Members of Congress want to make sure the online posting requirement doesn't pose a threat to national security.
The delay likely comes as a relief to career federal workers, a group of which has already sued the U.S. government and the Office of Government Ethics in U.S. district court in Maryland, alleging that the new online posting requirement violates their privacy.
The plaintiffs, who are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, also allege that the new requirements will create risks to national security, giving foreign intelligence adversaries information that could be used to black-mail and intimidate U.S. government employees.
Ira C. Lupu, a constitutional scholar and professor emeritus at the George Washington University Law School, said the requirements may be ill-conceived but don't infringe on a constitutional right to privacy.
"The constitutional right of privacy is almost always about matters of sex and reproductive and physical health and well-being, not about financial information," Lupu said.
He added that to prevent insider trading - the main goal of the STOCK Act - it makes sense for high-level federal employees to disclose their spouses' finances because many people attempt to hide transactions through their partner.
"The law may be stupid, to make all these people put this information online, but that is not a constitutional argument," Lupu said.
The House Ethics Committee later reminded House Members, officers and employees that beginning Sunday, financial transactions valued at more than $1,000, including those of the filer's spouse, must be recorded in periodic reports.
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