Financial data for elected officials might go online

OLYMPIA — The Washington Public Disclosure Commission is considering a move that would add transparency to the state’s election system.

Citizen members of the commission are in favor of posting online the financial information from elected officials and candidates, The Olympian reported. The information is already considered public but is released only when someone files a public-records request.

The vice chairman of the commission, Grant Degginger, said it’s time to post the reports filed by about 5,600 elected officials and state employees each year.

“I think probably the time has come to get them online. They are available to the public if they ask. It’s the only thing you can’t look up (online). It seems kind of odd,” said Degginger, a lawyer and vice chairman of the commission who is a former mayor of Bellevue. “If you are filling it out, you must assume the world can read it sooner or later.”

The reports disclose general information about income, real estate ownership and investments as well as details of other financial or business relationships. The reports also disclose government contracts that might benefit them.

Before the commission’s four members vote to put the reports online, they want some more information. It’s possible they will withhold some details online, such as the home address of a candidate.

In a meeting Thursday in Olympia, commission Chairman Amit Ranade, of Seattle, and commissioner Katrina Asay, of Milton, worried that making some information readily available might dissuade people from public service. Asay also suggested that a different kind of form might be more appropriate for nonpartisan legislative staffers than for elected officials and candidates.

A recent online Public Disclosure Commission survey — which drew 520 responses, nearly three-quarters of them from people who already file the forms — found that only 31 percent wanted the full financial form online, while 44 percent said no part of the forms should be posted. The unscientific sampling found roughly 25 percent favored putting only some parts of the form online.

Of concern to Ranade was the 35 percent of respondents who claimed that online access to the forms would cause them to leave office or not run for re-election. He asked commission staffers to drill down and find out specifically “what’s giving them heartburn.”

The commission is also evaluating whether details of the forms should be changed to make them more meaningful. For example, the top dollar category — “$100,000 or more” — doesn’t offer much insight in an era when nearly every home costs at least that much and someone doesn’t have to be wealthy to have socked away $100,000 for retirement.

The PDC may take up some of these issues during commissioners’ yearly retreat over the summer. It was at last year’s retreat that the impetus to look at publishing financial documents online started.

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