Government Transparency? Financial Disclosures for Presidential Candidates
Presidential candidates in the United States must make financial disclosures to the Federal Election Commission that reveal a wealth of personal information. Interested voters can access the disclosures and learn more about the candidates from them. Federal law, namely the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, requires these financial disclosures from all presidential and vice presidential candidates. Disclosures include employment assets and income, employment agreements, sources of compensation, spouse’s employment assets and income, transactions and liabilities, and gifts and travel reimbursements. Incumbent presidents, vice presidents, members of Congress, and many executive and judicial branch members also must make similar required filings. Instead of filing with the Federal Election Commission, incumbents file with the Office of Government Ethics.
The purposes of the financial disclosure requirement are to facilitate transparency and ethical conduct in government and to avoid conflicts of interest. However, candidates are not required to disclose their personal tax returns, which contain some additional financial information. Despite there being no legal requirement, many candidates and incumbents have disclosed their federal tax returns to the public since the 1970s. While not all presidential candidates during this election cycle have shared tax returns, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have made the required financial disclosures for the past two years. The disclosures by candidates must be made by the later of 30 days after becoming a candidate or May 15 of that calendar year and again on or before May 15 of each year after that until the election.
Members of the public can obtain copies of the candidates’ financial disclosures by submitting a request form to the Federal Election Commission (see first link in footnote). Educate yourself before the general election by learning about the candidates’ financial interests.
— By Julia Damron, Esq., Barnes Law
Julia Damron is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in California.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
 5 U.S.C. App. §§ 101-112, available at: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2010-title5/pdf/USCODE-2010-title5-app-ethicsing.pdf
 Public Financial Disclosure Guide, supra.
 There is no law requiring such disclosure; rather, the law favors the privacy interests of individuals in their tax information. “Presidential Tax Returns”, Tax History Project, 2016, http://www.taxhistory.org/www/website.nsf/Web/PresidentialTaxReturns?OpenDocument. See also Shaxson, Nicholas, “The Great Trump Tax Mysteries: Is He Hiding Loopholes, Errors, or Something More Serious?”, Vanity Fair, June 23, 2016, http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/06/the-great-trump-tax-mysteries (for explanation of additional financial information found on tax returns).
 “Presidential Tax Returns”, supra.
 Many returns for current and former candidates can be found at “Presidential Tax Returns”, supra. See also Shaxson, Nicholas, supra.
 As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton also had to make the disclosures. Chozick, Amy, “Hillary Clinton’s Financial Disclosure Shows Millions in Book Royalties and for Speeches”, N.Y. Times, May 17, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/18/us/politics/hillary-clinton-money.html?_r=0.
 See “Presidential Personal Financial Disclosure Reports”, Federal Election Commission, http://fec.gov/press/resources/PresFinDiscl.shtml. Alternatively, several websites have made the disclosures or analysis of them available online. See, e.g., Javers, Eamon, “Inside Trump's Finances: Read the Full FEC Report”, CNBC.com, July 22, 2015, http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/22/inside-trumps-finances-read-the-full-fec-report.html; Chozick, supra; Shaxson, supra.