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New Members Join Old in Botching Disclosures

Some Have Even Paid Fines Before Taking Office

The first day of the 112th Congress is still several weeks away, but some new Members are already paying late fees.

At least two freshman House lawmakers have paid $200 fines for failing to file their personal financial disclosure forms in the runup to Election Day.

Both Members and Congressional candidates are required to file the reports — which detail individual assets such as investments, bank accounts and rental properties, as well as liabilities — to the House or Senate each May.

While Members and candidates may seek up to 90-day extensions from the House or Senate ethics committees, all candidates are still required to file a financial disclosure form at least 30 days before a primary or general election.

According to a Roll Call review of House and Senate filings, at least three House Members-elect had not filed their financial disclosure forms in advance of the November elections, including Reps.-elect Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), who was sworn in after winning a special election in November to complete the term of ex-Rep. Mark Souder (R). Stutzman also won the general election.

Aides to Kinzinger and Stutzman acknowledged that the offices have recently filed the forms and have subsequently paid the late filing fee to the U.S. Treasury.

An aide to Sewell did not respond to an inquiry about the status of the Alabama Democrat’s forms before press time Monday.

According to a Kinzinger aide, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct alerted the Member-elect to his missing forms, which he filed last week. The aide described the incident as an “oversight.”

A Stutzman aide likewise said the Indiana lawmaker realized his error during new Member orientation in November, and “accepts responsibility for failing to file timely.”

Stutzman had previously filed a financial disclosure form in 2009 during his failed bid for the state’s Senate seat, but he did not file a 2010 form after losing the GOP primary in that race earlier this year, the aide said.

Stutzman subsequently sought the GOP nomination for the special election to replace Souder, who resigned in late May, but did not file new financial disclosure forms with the House.

The financial disclosure process often trips up Members — many request extra time to file, and dozens of lawmakers file amendments each year following inquiries by the House or Senate ethics panels or media outlets.

“I’m certainly finding that it’s not unusual to have new Members having difficulty navigating financial disclosure and [Federal Election Commission] issues. It seems like there’s been a spike in that. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve had a lot of first-time candidates,” said one attorney who often represents lawmakers.

A number of freshman lawmakers in the 112th Congress have already amended their financial disclosure forms, including Rep.-elect Allen West.

In a June letter to the Clerk of the House, West said he made a “minor error,” overestimating the value of two retirement accounts by about $50 million.

The Florida Republican had valued 401(k) accounts held by himself and his spouse at $25 million to $50 million each, but he later downgraded those accounts to $15,000 to $50,000 apiece. West also valued a third asset, college savings account owned by a dependent child, at $5 million, but the amendment indicates that asset is also worth $15,000 to $50,000.

Several Members-elect have also faced media scrutiny of their financial disclosure forms for issues related to loans to their campaigns, including Reps.-elect Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) and Frank Guinta (R-N.H.).

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