Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Statement of Economic Interest 'does not apply' to Government Transparency

Cross posted from ICPR's blog, The Race is On:

Scott Lee Cohen describes himself as an entrepreneur and small business owner. The press often describes him as a pawnbroker.

No matter what words you use to describe him, he seems to have money to burn. He has almost 100% self-funded both of his campaigns this year. First, he dropped $4.2 million into his abortive campaign for Lt. Governor. More recently he has anted up nearly $3.5 million in his run for governor.

To understand the depths of his pockets, one might decide to look at his official Statement of Economic Interest (SEI).

Unfortunately, like the SEI forms completed by so many candidates and public officials, Cohen’s most frequent response to the eight-question form is “does not apply.” In addition to the pawnshop, he does indicate stakes in two Chicago properties, as well as an interest in a green cleaning supply company.

While they may be thriving businesses, it is hard to imagine that someone who doesn’t come from either the upper echelons of corporate America or great family wealth would be liquid enough to invest nearly $8 million of his own money into a quest (or quests) for Illinois elective office.

Too bad the SEI doesn’t offer more insights into the sources of Scott Lee Cohen or any public figures investment interests. In fact, the dearth of information available about this eight million dollar man illustrates the woeful inadequacy of the state’s primary reporting tool to prevent conflicts of interest. ICPR has long advocated that the SEI forms capture the source and amount of income; the value of investments held both inside and outside Illinois; the purchase and sale date of investments; and who the income accrues to, i.e. the individual, spouse or minor child.

It's not the fault of Scott Lee Cohen or any of the candidates that their economic interest reporting is so thin. They are simply answering the questions put to them. But if Illinois’ incoming General Assembly doesn’t seize the opportunity to address a problem in plain sight, shame on them.

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