16 May Ethics Board to put financial disclosures online with new grant
Wisconsin’s Ethics Board plans to use a $75,000 grant to make the financial relationships – and potential conflicts of interest – of state officials available online.
The grant came from the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based non-profit involved in Great Lakes-area public policy.
All the information is already available, but not always in the most convenient form. The Ethics Board is charged with keeping track of the financial relationships of state officials, who must file statements every year disclosing employers, clients, investments and creditors, but not dollar amounts.
Judges, legislators and other elected officials statewide, about 2,000 people in all, fall under the requirements.
And recently, the Ethics Board has put most of the information into digital form. Within the last four years, Judd said, that has allowed the board to begin pre-printing disclosure forms with all of the last year’s information so that officials can cross off outdated lines and add any new ones.
“It’s very helpful for enforcement because it focuses attention on new and changed information,” said Roth Judd, director of the Ethics Board.
In April legislators’ statements were made available digitally on searchable CDs for $25. Before that, they were available only on paper, so that examining a legislator’s disclosure could take sifting through more than a hundred forms. At the time, Ethics Board Chairman James Morgan said that legislators’ statements had been picked first because they are requested most often.
Once the new Web site goes online, which Judd hopes will be this year, searching should be made a little easier still. Judd said that he and the Ethics Board’s staff have a good idea – on paper – of what they want the site to look like and how it should work. The board is looking for a developer, and Judd expects the grant to cover the cost.
The tool will join the Ethics Board’s existing online presence, such as its comprehensive list of all lobbyists and their positions on individual bills. “Everyone who is interested in affecting the outcome of a bill knows everyone else who is also interested,” Judd said.