Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Pottery Barn Rule of Financial Disclosure

It must be nice to be so rich that you have to amend your federal financial disclosure forms 77 times because you've forgotten a few million dollars or the odd piece of real estate here and there. Consider this quote from a recent opinion article by Katherine Rampell in the Washington Post:

"[Jared] Kushner, like many of President Trump’s senior officials, is really rich. And really rich people, almost by definition, have a lot of assets to keep track of."

In the article, Ms Rampell acknowledges that when one is as staggeringly wealthy as various members of the Trump family, it's understandable that they might from time to time lose track of some of their vast assets. This is, of course, a problem not often faced by average Americans about to lose their health care or job or both.

Understandable or not, the omission of assets on the financial disclosure forms government officials are required to file, and the ability to declare those omitted assets after the fact without penalty, has an odd smell to it*. Ms Rampell suggests that such errors in financial disclosure filing might be significantly reduced if the federal government applied a variant of the Pottery Barn Rule ("You break it, you bought it") - taking a page from the Justice Department's zeal for civil asset forfeiture**, she suggests that assets in excess of a certain value (she suggests $1 million) which are “forgotten” in official federal disclosures can be seized by the government. The theory is that if those assets were so inconsequential as to be overlooked, the individual is wealthy enough to not really need them, and should be able to donate them to the ever-cash-strapped government.

I really like this idea.

The last time I had to update my security clearance, I dutifully filled out the incredibly long and complex online e-QIP*** forms that asked for documentation of every aspect of my life, places of residence, job history, finances, acquaintances, encounters with the law, etc, and which provided dire warnings about the penalties for providing false or inaccurate information. And then, a few months later, I had to sit down in an interview with a professional investigator, go over every line, and explain in detail every inconsistency or error (such as any differences between that submission and the previous one I'd filed five years before). I'm still amazed that anyone manages to get a security clearance††.

Considering that most of us run the risk of huge fines, interest, penalties, and even jail when we make the smallest of mistakes on our e-QIPs or our tax returns, it seems somehow unfair that the enormously wealthy should be able to get away with the equivalent of an "oops, my bad" when caught in an error involving millions of dollars.

Bring on the Pottery Barn Rule!

Have a good day. Declare accurately. See you back here again tomorrow, when we name the Left-Cheek Ass Clown for July.

More thoughts then.


* Unless you are one of those who is firmly convinced that Mr Trump's fecal material doesn't stink.

** The seizure of private property by law enforcement agencies before the owner has been proven guilty of a crime ... often before the owner has even been charged with a crime.

*** Electronic Questionnaire for Investigations Processing.

† And, trust me, I have a lot of questionable acquaintances.

†† Unless, of course, they're related to Donald Trump and nepotized into nice White House jobs.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Yay! I would like to see the Pottery Barn rule applied. Here's something else: if anyone is so neglectful or dumb as to omit that kind of information, they really shouldn't be in some position of trust in the government.

Chuck Bear said...

With regard to the reasons given for failure to disclose, I smell pants smoking!

Mike said...

Just another reason to get pissed off at the mega wealthy.

John Hill said...

Sounds like a good rule!

Insane Penguin said...

How about o "one strike, you're out" rule when it comes to financial disclosures?

Atomic Dog said...

I think the Pottery Barn rule should apply when it comes to finances.

allenwoodhaven said...

This is a wonderful idea! How do we get it to happen? The wealthy seem to be the ones in Congress who make the laws...