Saturday, December 12, 2009

Would Modern Financial Disclosure Rules Have Kept Jefferson, Madison, and Washington Out of Federal Public Service?

Since it is a Saturday morning, let’s step back into the Wayback Machine with Sherman and Mr. Peabody and see what the conversation might have been with Mr. Jefferson when he was contemplating ‘standing’ for office (no ‘running for public office’ for those guys back then, too undignified):

“Let’s see, Mr. Jefferson, you’ll have to report all that land you have down there around Monticello, and of course, the slaves. How many books do you own, Mr. Jefferson, anyways? 25,000? They must be worth at least $10,000 Continental dollars, I would presume.

Just how many bottles of wine did you import from France last year, Tom? 10,000? Wow….those must have been some dinner parties! Were any of them ‘gifts’ from a foreign sovereign? You know how much we hate that….bad publicity for you there, my man.

Do you have a vacation place in the Poplar Forest?  Something along the Rappahannock River maybe?

And what about that nail-manufacturing operation you started a couple of years ago? Didn’t you make a mint off of that? What, oh I am sorry, I didn’t realize it went bankrupt. But still, you are going to have to disclose it and all that residue you poured in to the Rivanna River will surely make the environmentalists angry.

What do you mean ‘you don’t think it is worth it’ to file all these personal financial disclosure papers and ‘stand’ for office? You are the best we got! You went to William and Mary, for goodness sakes and studied Latin and Greek! Waddya mean you are just going to go back to Monticello and read books and study plants and fauna here in the New Country?”

How many Jeffersons and Madisons of our generation have declined to serve on the local county commission because of such heightened public scrutiny and financial disclosure rules? Our question is: Does it really make that much difference whether someone owns 100 shares of Coca-Cola or has inherited billions of dollars from a great-grandfather who invented toilet paper?

Let’s think about this seriously for a minute or two. Would you rather have people with real-live, real-world experience in the private business sector world try to solve these monstrous problems now facing us? Or would you rather continue to vote for professional politicians who have really done nothing but write legislation all their lives and have to learn about farming and manufacturing from paid lobbyists and lawyers?

One of the utopian hopes of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison was that farmers, bakers, bankers and educators would run for office and bring their real-world life experiences to Congress and the state legislatures. We would all be better off  with a wide cross-section of viewpoints and experiences represented in the public discourse. For example, perhaps it would have been nice to have had more great accountants or auditors serving in Congress prior to the Wall Street meltdown last year who might have been able to see the danger signs coming and helped take steps to at least mitigate the damage that was caused.

We also strongly believe, and know from experience, that with close to 75% of elected officials having a law degree and very few having any sort of budgetary or corporate executive management experience, the chances of balancing budgets in Washington are practically non-existent.

Excessive financial disclosure rules mitigate against a successful businessperson from running for public office by pompously declaring that every single bit of investment and asset a person has is ‘in the public interest to know!”

What do we care if a guy has 100 shares of stock in Coca-Cola? Is he or she going to vote for more access to the marketplace than Coke already has? Except in some very extreme situations where a noble person would just recuse themselves from the vote, (and there are still some noble people who are in Congress, believe it or not) we can see very little use in such painful and excruciating financial disclosure reporting.

Abolish it, wipe it out and start over, we say.

And so it goes, ladies and gentlemen. In our effort to elect a Congress and legislatures full of the next Popes-in-waiting and Pollyannas, we are most likely keeping the next Jefferson, Madison and George Washington out of the arena.

It is our loss, not theirs.

courtesy of

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