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Members Shed Stocks — and Some Reporting Requirements

One benefit of the economic downturn — and it may be cold comfort at best — is that Members of Congress who shed stocks at a loss last year also shed some of the disclosure requirements that would have applied to profitable sales of securities.A good example of this is Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) who has concluded that his annual financial disclosure form was correct in the first place and will not have to be amended.Roll Call called Van Hollen’s office last week to ask about a stock sale reported on his disclosure form that had no indication of profits.Members are required on their annual disclosure forms to list any asset that has a value of more than $1,000 at the end of the year or that produced more than $200 in income during the year.Van Hollen’s form indicated a transaction — the August sale of an equity fund with a total value of $1,000 to $15,000 — but there was no indication of proceeds from the sale. His staff said it was a minor error and that the Congressman would file an amendment to his disclosure.But Thursday, Van Hollen’s chief of staff, David Weaver, wrote to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to say that “there was no error and … no amendment will be forthcoming.—And Weaver is right. Van Hollen’s office said he did not earn the requisite $200 on the sale — in fact, it was a loss. And since the asset was sold, it has no value at the end of the calendar year. Therefore, it does not have to be listed on the asset page of his disclosure form at all, as long as the transaction is properly recorded.The instruction manual for completing financial disclosure forms emphasizes that “practically any security or real property that you purchased, sold, or exchanged during the year will have to be reported on both Schedule III [the assets page] and Schedule IV [the transactions page].—But “practically all— is not the same thing as “all— and as the stock market went south and Members began dumping bad stocks at a loss, their disclosure forms properly show more and more stock sales with no reference to income, because they made no money off the deals.

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