What a difference the vote of November 7th has made on how some politicians in Washington now view wrongdoing. The U.S. Senate has now decided that lawmakers and other senior public servants should face stronger penalties, including jail time, for knowingly falsifying financial disclosure forms. That type legislation wouldn’t have had a “prayer” to become law had not the voters voted overwhelmingly against corruption last year. The message appears to be understood. The Senators voted 93-2 on an amendment to increase from the current $10,000 to $50,000 the maximum civil penalty that can be imposed for willful misrepresentations on the forms, which broadly detail a public official’s sources of income, assets and debts. The amendment, offered by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) to a lobbying and ethics reform bill the Senate is now considering, would also allow the U.S. attorney general to file criminal charges, with penalties of up to one year in prison, against those who fail to comply with the financial disclosure law.
Among those required by law to file financial disclosure forms are the president and vice-president, members of Congress, high-level executive branch officials, employees of the executive office of the president appointed by the president, and certain officers of Congress and the judicial branch. Concerning his amendment, Senator Vitter observed:
If average American citizens falsify tax documents, they are in a heap of trouble with the IRS and the federal government. Public officials shouldn’t be treated any differently when they falsify their financial information.
Last year former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) who pleaded guilty in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling investigation and faces prison time, acknowledged making false statements on his financial disclosure forms by concealing that Abramoff and a foreign businessman who were the true source of gifts. Much earlier, in 1984, former Rep. George V. Hansen (R-ID), was censured by the House for failing to include transactions on federal disclosure forms. He was later convicted of failing to file full disclosure forms and spent 15 months in prison. The conviction was overturned in 1995.
It’s become more common for lawmakers to amend their disclosure forms after acknowledging that they unwittingly made errors or omitted information. Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and his predecessor, former Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), have amended forms after questions arose over them. The Senate was expected to vote on the ethics and lobbying bill during the week of the 15th of January. The House will likely take up similar legislation this month. Unless both the House and Senate take the necessary action to really clean up the mess in our nation’s capital, there will be more incumbents who failed to participate who will be defeated in 2008.
Source: Associated Press
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