In our previous post marking today’s annual disclosure deadline, we described the disparities in the travel disclosure rule between federal lawmakers and federal judges.
In this post, we’re going to show just how easy it would be to bring third branch officials in line with the type of travel reporting rubric followed by members of the House and Senate.
And we’ll add a couple of other data points to the travel reports: the periodic online transaction reports that members of Congress file within 45 days of buying or selling a stock and the online financial disclosure reports, which, like judges’ reports, include details of their travel.
Congressional travel disclosures
First off, Sen. Dick Durbin and his wife were the guests of the Aspen Institute in 2018 for a trip to Finland and Estonia (see screenshot at right and full report here). Durbin list the cost of the flights for him and his wife — $4,110 apiece — as well as their hotel, meal and other expenses.
The Durbins seem to have returned to the States on June 2, and the Secretary of the Senate received the report on June 21. That someone as busy as the then-Minority Whip could file this within 19 days underscores its unburdensome nature.
Sen. Durbin’s fellow Whip, Sen. John Cornyn, filed a similar report after he and his wife returned from a March 2019 trip to Georgia (the state; see screenshot at right and full report here) with the American Enterprise Institute.
It appears that either Cornyn himself or another organization paid for the flight down south, but that AEI picked up his rental car tab. In any event, this is far more detail that one would ever see in a disclosure report filed by a federal judge or justice.
To see examples of how House members fill out post-travel disclosures, see this one from a Rep. Barbara Lee following a trip to New York with the United Nations Foundation and this one from Rep. Elise Stefanik from a Dec. 2019 trip to the U.K.
Though these were received by the clerk a bit late — 19 days past the deadline for Lee; two days past for Stefanik — they are far more timely than any travel disclosure filed by a federal judge or justice.
Congressional stock transaction reports
When he wasn’t busy trying to keep his caucus together, former House Speaker John Boehner was altering his stock portfolio — or someone was on his behalf. In any event, the day after he shed a few shares of Diamond Offshore Drilling, in Feb. 2014, he filed a transaction report. Similarly, just 32 days after current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sold her shares of land developer BF Enterprises, she filed a stock report, which was also posted online.
Across the Capitol, Sen. Patty Murray reported the sale of 83 of her husband’s stocks just a week after those transactions in 2017, and earlier this year, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reported his wife’s reinvestment of Wells Fargo dividends just 13 days after the fact.
The fastest the public would ever learn of a federal judge’s or justice’s stock transaction is 166 days — or the time between a Dec. 31 sale and a June 15 annual financial disclosure release. Since most stock transactions take place throughout the year and not just on the last day, and since the Financial Disclosure Office is always behind on releasing reports, the average wait is typically three times that.
Congressional financial disclosure reports
You’ll notice that in addition to each being posted online in a timely manner — full disclosure: Cruz, Hoyer and McCarthy asked for and received 90-extensions, which federal judges also often ask for and receive — the reports include basic details of their reimbursed and paid-for travel, akin to what judges provide.
The difference, of course, is that lawmakers must receive pre-trip authorization and file a post-trip report, which judges are not (yet!) required to do.
Locate your own senators’ and representatives’ travel, stock and financial disclosure reports
— House financial disclosure reports and periodic transaction reports: LINK (click “Search Reports” on left side of the page and type in last name of representative)
— House travel disclosures: LINK (click “Search Reports” on left side of the page and type in last name of representative)
— Senate financial disclosure reports and periodic transaction reports: LINK
— Senate travel disclosures: LINK