How can I learn more about my legislator’s financial ties?
Out of the 47 states that require personal financial disclosures, the completed forms are available online in 31 states. In the remaining 16 states, those who want to view the reports might need to email a clerk or take more complicated steps such as showing their photo IDs or requesting the documents in person.
The Center for Public Integrity has made it easier by putting disclosures from a total of 6,933 lawmakers in 47 states who held office in 2015 into a searchable digital library. Here's where you can find your legislators.
How often do legislators update their reports?
In most states, the reports are filed annually. But in North Dakota, disclosures are required only in election years.
North Carolina and Colorado require lawmakers to file initial reports that detail their employment and investments. Each subsequent year, though, they can file a form stating only that nothing has changed since the prior report. In these two states, you might have to collect multiple years’ reports if you want to get a complete view of your lawmaker’s disclosure. We have gathered those older files in our disclosure library.
What do the disclosures contain?
Some states ask lawmakers to detail the jobs of their spouses or children, their businesses, investments, real estate holdings or even ties to lobbyists. Others ask for little beyond the legislators’ sources of income.
New Hampshire’s form contains only two sections: a checklist to declare if legislators believe they have a conflict in certain areas; and a space to declare sources of income over $10,000.
On the Wyoming form, in addition to questions about income sources, two checkboxes ask whether the filer has any real estate or security holdings. But the lawmaker does not have to provide additional details on which stocks or where the real estate is located.
Can legislators vote on an issue when they have ties to it?
It depends on the state. In every state except Oregon and Utah, legislators can abstain or ask to be recused from voting on legislation. Most states specify that they should do so if the legislation presents a conflict of interest.
But many lawmakers are still allowed to debate, and sometimes even vote, on legislation and amendments that may personally benefit them or their companies. For example, Louisiana allows lawmakers to debate bills that benefit a personal or financial interest even after they have recused themselves, while California lawmakers can vote on legislation even after declaring conflicts of interest if their votes are “fair and objective.”
In the Idaho Senate and the Kansas House, legislators need two-thirds of the chamber’s permission to abstain.
Oregon and Utah require lawmakers to vote if they are present, regardless of any potential conflicts of interest. Many legislators say frequent abstentions would keep their chambers from working properly.
This story was co-published with The Associated Press.
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