Newly confirmed Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman probably won’t have to rely on a government pension for a comfortable retirement.
A former president and chief operating officer of Fidelity Investments, Bodman has two investment funds worth at least $1 million, 11 bond investments worth at least $250,000 and six IRA stock accounts each worth another $1 million or more.
Bodman had to disclose this information as part of his nomination process. Politicalmoneyline.com detailed his disclosure Jan. 20.
A new review of financial disclosure requirements by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), however, has some watchdog groups worried that the public could know a lot less about the finances of future nominees and other top officials in the executive branch.
Any changes would likely affect a much larger group than political nominees like Bodman. There are roughly 20,000 senior executive service workers who currently have to disclose their finances.
The OGE has yet to release any recommendations. It is only collecting comments for its study, which was directed by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act passed last year. The study is due to Capitol Hill by March 17.
Ten watchdog groups wrote the OGE last week urging it not to relax the current disclosure standards.
“It is important that we do not let the objective of streamlining reporting requirements become synonymous with retreating from conflict of interest regulations,” the groups, including Public Citizen, Common Cause and Democracy 21, wrote.
Their worry stems from a similar OGE study in 2001 and previous House Republican efforts to relax disclosure rules.
The OGE study, for example, recommended reducing the upper limit in disclosure requirements from $50 million to only $100,000. House Republicans supported capping the upper disclosure limit at $2.5 million for top intelligence officials and would have exempted those workers from certain stock reporting requirements in an earlier version of the House intel-reform bill. Both provisions were dropped in conference in favor of the request for the study.
There are 11 broad categories of reporting requirements for presidential appointees. Assets must be identified as being between $0 to $1,000, $1,001 to $15,000, $50,001 to $100,000 and so on to the final category, which is greater than $50 million.
Associate General Counsel Ira Kaye said the reason the OGE recommended knocking that upper limit down to $100,000 in its 2001 study — which meant the public couldn’t distinguish between a $100,001 asset or a $100 million one — was because it felt the magnitude of the investment was unimportant. What mattered, according to the OGE, was that potential conflicts were identified, Kaye said. For example, a top Energy Department official’s investment in an energy hedge fund valued at $50,000 is as much of a potential conflict as a similar investment valued at $500,000.
Kaye said the 2001 study sought to streamline the appointment process. Changing the disclosure requirements takes an act of Congress, and the recommendations the OGE made in 2001 were never adopted.
Disclosure requirements give important contextual information the public can weigh in assessing the actions of an administration, the watchdogs argued.
A Center for Public Integrity study that found that the average net worth of the top 100 members of the Bush administration in 2002 was between $3.7 million and $12 million.