Eighteenth-century French diplomat Joseph de Maistre famously articulated, “In a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve.”
In light of The New York Times’ recent coverage and Business Insider’s ongoing “Conflicted Congress” investigation into violations of 2012’s STOCK Act, electing better leaders can start with requiring greater financial transparency to quickly reveal potential conflicts of interest.
We need both better people running for office and more professional journalists to watch over candidates and elected officials.
Members of both parties, including Democratic Senate candidate Trudy Bush Valentine and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, have called for Members of Congress, their family members, and certain staffers to be banned from trading individual securities. However, any legislation meant to advance the spirit of the STOCK Act should facilitate the timely sharing of financial information for journalists and the public to examine.
Beginning with all federal elected officials and their spouses, mandatory disclosure should include full tax returns (even those under audit) back to when their candidacy was first declared, current credit score and credit report, and real-time reporting of securities held and traded through an automated brokerage feed – a common standard at professional service firms with stringent independence requirements. This level of personal transparency may make officials or potential candidates uncomfortable, but it is not about them. Voters and the public deserve to know to whom their lawmakers owe money and how much.
Any increase in pertinent data must be met with resources for competent independent professionals to synthesize, track, and report on the under-examined web of financial holdings, related party interests, campaign contributions, political activity, legislative action, and support for public funding. The increase in resources could come in the form of a refundable employment tax credit to offset the expense of fairly compensating well-staffed newsrooms.
If we want better candidates for office, then we need lawmakers with the humility to take drastic and intentional steps to ensure they are succeeded by people better than them. We need lawmakers who believe it’s better to work alongside a clean opponent than a corrupt ally. We need meaningful information in the hands of well-resourced journalists whose work can expose and repel those who would use public service to enrich themselves.
On Nov. 8, vote the way our politicians should behave, and please put integrity above ingrained party loyalty.