66 House Lawmakers Late to File

Posted June 16, 2008 at 6:31pm

Congress has never been very good at deadlines, and the annual May 15 deadline for Members of Congress to file their financial disclosure forms is no exception. Dozens of Members missed the May 15 deadline this year, and 22 were granted extensions beyond the end of June to file their forms, more than double the number that have dragged out that long in the past two years.

The House released financial disclosure reports Monday for all Members of Congress and a list of Members who had requested extensions.

The public release included all forms filed by last week. Late filers will be publicly released by the Clerk of the House as they come in, but they will miss the attention that accompanied Monday’s rollout.

Sixty-six members — about 15 percent of the House — missed the May 15 deadline. Of those, nine were given extensions until July, and 13 were given until August to file their forms.

By comparison — according to documents provided by the Center for Responsive Politics — in 2007, 70 Members were granted extensions, but only nine were granted extensions past June 30, and only six of those extended into August. In 2006, 54 Members were granted extensions, but only eight reached past June 30, and only three extended into August.

Cleta Mitchell, an ethics expert at Foley & Lardner, said late filing by Members “may be a sign that people are taking [disclosure] more seriously.”

With increased scrutiny by the media and the Department of Justice, Mitchell said, “they want to make sure they get this right.”

In addition, Mitchell pointed out that Congressional disclosure forms pose a challenge for accounting professionals because Congress uses different reporting thresholds and definitions than the IRS. Becoming familiar with those definitions may slow down the process of producing Congressional disclosure forms for accountants who haven’t done them before.

Under House rules — which are mandated by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 — Members and senior staff must file financial disclosures by May 15, but the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct “may grant reasonable extensions of time for the filing.”

Members seeking an extension must make a request in writing and must state a reason for requesting the extension, but the rules do not appear to allow the ethics committee to reject a request for an extension. No filers may receive an extension of greater than 90 days.

Most Members seeking extensions cited the difficulty in gathering all the relevant financial information required to produce an accurate form.

Vartan Djihanian, a spokesman for Rep. John Campbell (R- Calif.), offered an explanation that was echoed by several offices. “He’s got complicated finances, and it takes him a little longer to prepare the forms. … He needs to hire professionals, and they don’t usually start until June because of the tax season.”

Thirty-five of the members filing late this year also filed late in 2007, and 17 of those also filed late in 2006.

Steve Haro, a spokesman for Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who has filed late three years running, said, “It is an important document, and the Congressman and his senior staff want to make sure they do it right. Unfortunately that put us a little past deadline, but that does mean that the product that we furnish will be completed as thoroughly and as accurately as possible.”

Several offices said the extension offered by the ethics committee provided more time than they need to file the forms. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) received an extension until Aug. 13, but “he’s not going to be taking until Aug. 13,” said his spokesman, Gregg Bortz. “Some financial information he was trying to get was delayed … [and] he would rather be a few days late than wrong.” Bortz said Dent expects to file the disclosure form before the week is out.

Reps. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) share an excuse for late filing this year: They were both married last year, Mack to Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), and their spokesmen said it is taking a little while to figure out the newly mingled assets of the couples.

Bono Mack, however, was undaunted. She filed her financial disclosure form on May 15.