On Dec. 7, President Barack Obama signed legislation to delay implementation of the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act, which would require Internet posting of the annual financial interest forms for 28,000 executive branch employees.
Executive branch officials must list detailed information about their assets, outside income and gifts on these forms, which are then reviewed by ethics officials to help ensure compliance with federal conflict of interest standards.
“Posting these forms on the Internet will be a significant change for executive branch employees,” says Kathleen Clark, JD, the John S. Lehmann Research Professor of Law at Washington University in St. Louis. “These forms have been available to the public upon request, but logistical hurdles (such as requiring requesters to identify themselves and promise not to use the information for commercial purposes) has meant that few of these forms have been requested.”
Clark says an association of high-level employees filed a lawsuit to prevent online posting, arguing that it would violate their constitutional right to privacy. Others have expressed concern that such posting would enable foreign governments to identify U.S. intelligence agents. Congress responded to these security concerns by delaying implementation until April 15, 2013.
“Congress passed the STOCK Act in response to allegations that members of Congress engaged in insider trading,” she says. “Ironically, insider trading was already illegal, and the Act's requirement for Internet posting of executive branch employees' financial information will have no effect on insider trading by members of Congress.”
Clark made a presentation about the STOCK Act and this lawsuit by the Senior Executives Association in early December at the Annual Conference of the Council on Government Ethics Laws.
Clark is an expert on government ethics, legal ethics and whistleblowing law. She is associate reporter for the American Law Institute’s Principles of Government Ethics and recently served as Special Counsel to the Attorney General of the District of Columbia, drafting an ethics manual for the District’s 32,000 employees. She created and taught for 13 years a course on government ethics as part of the law school’s Congressional & Administrative Law Clinic in Washington, D.C.