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Making public employees more public

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KAI RYSSDAL: One of the perks of serving the federal government in a senior position is that you get to tell the world how much you're worth. Who's paying you, what kind of investments you have, those kinds of things. Financial disclosure forms have been around for decades, and pretty much everybody who has to fill one out is over whatever privacy concerns they had, but all those records have now been posted online to a fully searchable internet database.

From Washington, Jeremy Hobson reports.


JEREMY HOBSON: Jock Friedly started "Legistorm" to shine some light on Congress. He added the personal financial disclosures of Capitol Hill staffers in February, mostly those who draw a Congressional salary of more than $110,000 a year.

JOCK FRIEDLY: There are many, many staffers who are more powerful than most members of Congress. Almost anybody on the Appropriations Committee has control over enormous sums of money.

So, he says, their personal conflicts of interest are as important as their bosses': gifts from lobbyists, for example, stocks held in companies staffers help regulate, or even an extra salary.

FRIEDLY: I found a staffer who is a trade policy council, very important person in the Senate, who received money on the side as a lawyer for a trade policy organization.

But Jeff Loveng isn't convinced staffer financial information is relevant. He's chief of staff for Congressman Bill Shuster.

JEFF LOVENG: I don't have a problem with disclosure. I just have a problem with the inability to be able to see where my data is going.

He says in the old paper system he could keep track of those who peeked into his financial disclosures. Now, anyone with a screen name can do it. Still, Melanie Sloan, with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says the staff complaints are over the top.

MELANIE SLOAN: Everybody knows when they take those jobs that they are going to be filling out those financial disclosure forms every year and that they are publicly available.

Sloan says ultimately, the public's right to know should trump privacy concerns. House lawyers are said to be looking for a happy medium.

In Washington, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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