In honor of annual financial disclosure being due today for top officials in all three branches of government, here’s some information on how judges’ and justices’ travel disclosures differ from those for members of Congress:
What members of Congress currently must do:
Before members of Congress and Hill staff embark on a trip (1) that is paid for by a third party and (2) whose total costs come to $415 or more, they must receive approval from the House or Senate Ethics Committee.
Within 15 days (for representatives and their staff) or 30 days (for senators and their staff) of their return, members and staff must file a report that includes a description of the meetings and events they attended.
The report also calls for an accounting of the exact dollar amount spent on behalf of, or reimbursed to, the traveller, which includes transportation, lodging, food and other incidental expenses. (Family gifts and personal hospitality are exempt from reporting rules.)
These trips must also be listed on lawmakers’ financial disclosure reports, which are public documents filed annually and posted online.
What federal judges and Supreme Court justices currently must do:
First off, there’s no dedicated, internal judiciary ethics office that vets judges’ and justices’ third-party paid travel. (There’s a security office that does, but that’s different.)
The reporting threshold in the judicial branch is also $415, though any flight, hotel or meal that has a market value of $166 or less need not be aggregated for reporting purposes.
Like members of Congress, judiciary officials must also list their trips in their annual financial disclosure reports, but unlike lawmakers, judges’ and justices’ disclosure reports are not posted online.
Depending on the year and on the office, the reports are released between 30 and 600 days after they’re filed, typically in thumb drive form, typically via regular mail to Fix the Court or to the Free Law Project.
What members of Congress have proposed to modernize the judiciary’s travel reporting:
Introduced in the last Congress, the bicameral Judicial Travel Accountability Act would bring judicial travel reporting in line with congressional travel reporting.
It would require:
— a detailed description of the meetings and events attended by the judicial officer;
— the total transportation expenses, in dollars, for the judicial officer and for any family member who accompanied the judicial officer;
— the total lodging expenses, in dollars, for the judicial officer and for any family member who accompanied the judicial officer; and
— the total meal expenses, in dollars, for the judicial officer and for any family member who accompanied the judicial officer.
It is our hope that a similar bill is introduced in this Congress.