Disclosure forms aren’t the sexiest thing in politics. Yet this admittedly dry topic may land Stevens in jail and could be one of the factors that cost Palin a shot at being Vice President.
Last week, Stevens was convicted on seven counts of lying about thousands of dollars of gifts and home renovations on his Senate financial disclosure forms. This could land him in jail regardless of whether it costs him re-election. Stevens’ omissions were clear attempts to hide the depth of his relationship with an oil company executive who paid for generous gifts and improvements to his property. Of course, this is the point of disclosure filings: they show the voting public the real nature of relationships between those in power and those seeking to influence them.
For Palin, the Republican Party’s filings revealed to the public the lavish $150,000 it spent outfitting the Governor and her family for the campaign. This revelation cast the Governor, who campaigned as a work-a-day mother of five, in an entirely different light: one in which the expense reports don’t match the rhetoric. Without this type of detailed disclosure, the public would have no way of knowing whether she scrimped and bought a suit on her own frugal dime from a consignment store or whether her political handlers had broken the bank dressing her up in haute couture. When authenticity is at stake, it helps voters if the political players are ultimately required to fess up to the truth to the public in a timely manner.
Those who would dismantle all aspects of campaign finance and ethics reforms have the goal of ending meaningful disclosure firmly in their sights. But this political season shows that disclosure is still very much needed and useful. Sunlight is proving to be the best disinfectant in a political culture that would much rather hide its artifice and powerful connections in the dark.