Are Members of Congress Hiding Their Income from Voters?

Issues
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A hand revealing a $20 bill

Multiple members of Congress, representing both major parties, are dropping the ball (intentionally or otherwise) when it comes to disclosing all of their sources of income. Unfortunately, there are no indications of ethics enforcement to deter this behavior.

With accurate and complete information about a candidate’s sources of income, voters have the resources to fully understand which financial interests might guide their elected officials’ decisions once they are in office.

For decades, financial disclosure laws have required members of Congress to supply voters with this critical information. But in recent reports, three lawmakers left voters in the dark about their true sources of income.

For example, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) has faced harsh criticism this summer for not disclosing her husband’s financial ties to an oil and gas firm until well after she was elected to Congress.

Similarly, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) apparently failed to comply with disclosure requirements regarding her memoir, “This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey from Refugee to Congresswoman.” Despite signing a book deal in 2019 and publishing the book in 2020, she reports no income related to it.

In addition, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) omitted information regarding income from his book, "Firebrand: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the MAGA Revolution," from initial financial disclosures. His office later submitted an amendment including the income only after reporters inquired about the omission.

These cases reflect a dangerous trend. Voters have a right to know to what financial interests their elected officials and candidates for office might be beholden.

The U.S. House Ethics Committee has acknowledged that “the most serious charge which can be made against a public official’s ethics is that he betrays the public’s trust in him by using the office to advance his own financial interests at the public’s expense.”

In the case of Rep. Boebert, voters in her district had the right to know that her campaign pledges relating to energy policy and her votes regarding energy legislation would impact her husband’s business. But due to her failure to disclose that information, voters were denied a complete picture.

Now is the time for the Ethics Committee to protect the public’s trust with meaningful enforcement of ethics rules. At the very least, the Ethics Committee should publicly comment on this trend of nondisclosure to deter other members from engaging in the same conduct.

Kedric is CLC's General Counsel and Senior Director of Ethics.
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