Arnold-Maria Split Is Reminder of Failure to Disclose

The divorce of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver is the split of two people who are now private citizens.

But Shriver's divorce filing last week also offers a reminder that we don't know nearly enough about public officials.

That failure to disclose has nothing to do with sex, housekeepers or illegitimate children. That failure to disclose is all about money. Californians simply don't know enough about the finances of elected officials to keep tabs on our elected officials.

California's politicians file statements of their "economic interests," including income and investments. But the forms are poorly designed and make it hard to get a complete, accurate picture of what politicians are worth and their potential conflicts of interest. The forms are particularly insuffiicent in this era, when politicians are often very, very rich. Like Schwarzenegger.

In particular, the forms -- in quantifying investments -- don't ask for the specific value of an invesment or holding. Instead, they let politicians fill in ranges. And the highest range is $1 million or over. in understanding the finances of wealthy politicians, this isn't helpful. An investment of $1.2 million might be fairly minor to a billionaire like Meg Whitman, and would be unlikely to affect a politician's judgment on a policy issue. An investment of $400 million would be major and might be an area to watch for self-serving decisonmaking and conflicts of interest. But the forms would allow an investment of either size to be reported in the same way, as over $1 million.

As a result, reporters had many unanswered questions about Schwarzenegger's finances, even after seven years in office.  I had hoped that the divorce would provide more details. But Shriver's filing offers no new details. And all indications are the divorce will be handled behind closed doors, with little financial disclosure that ends up in the public record.

It's hard to blame Schwarzenegger for this. Particularly since the former governor did show reporters his tax returns -- a step that the current governor, Jerry Brown, has not taken. But it is past time to change law to require a complete and exact accounting -- down to the specific dollar -- of the finances of those who govern us. We should know as much about their finances as they do.

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