Senate Panels Pressed to Open Up Nominees' Files Before Confirmation Hearings

Transparency groups seek financial and ethics documents, citing “distrust in government.”

As Senate committees gear up to consider incoming Trump administration nominees, a coalition of 16 transparency groups and three legal specialists are pressing chairmen to consistently require the release of the nominees’ personal background documents.

In a Jan. 4 letter to the major Senate committees, the coalition led by urged leaders to create new disclosure rules to allow public online access to machine-readable questionnaires completed by the nominees on their finances and steps taken to avoid ethical conflicts.

“Presidential appointees act to implement the goals of the president, running programs and agencies critical to the health, security and well-being of the American public,” the letter noted. “In an era of historic distrust of government in general, and Congress in particular, it is essential for members of the Senate to take meaningful steps to improve public trust in the appointment and confirmation process.”

The groups asserted that there is, “as yet, no established procedure for including public input and open-sourced scrutiny as part of the confirmation process.” New rules would “enable the public to understand the nominees’ work experience, business holdings and personal lives,” they said.

Signatories included the Campaign Legal Center, the Center for Media and Democracy, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Demand Progress, Democracy 21, the Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen and the Sunlight Foundation. Individuals included former Obama White House ethics lawyer Norm Eisen, Fordham University associate law professor Zephyr Teachout (a recent unsuccessful candidate for Congress) and Anne Weismann, who is executive director of the Campaign for Accountability. 

Republican control of the Senate and, after Jan. 20, the White House, plus rules against filibustering routine nominees set by Democrats in recent years, are expected to combine to ease prospects for confirmation of many of Trump’s agency nominees.