U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, both New Hampshire Democrats, criticized a new House rule that passed virtually unnoticed last week making congressional office records “personal property” of the member.
Last week’s attempt to bury the Office of Congressional Ethics failed, but OpenSecrets.org brought attention to the following rule that did, in fact, pass:
“Records created, generated, or received by the congressional office of a Member … are exclusively the personal property of the individual Member [emphasis added]… and such Member … has control over such records,” OpenSecrets.org reported.
These documents include budget records and are maintained at taxpayer expense. The change will likely make it harder for the Justice Department to access such records during an investigation of errant members.
“This rules package is terrible. I am concerned that the Republicans clearly want far less transparency,” Shea-Porter said in an email on Sunday.
Rep. Kuster also responded Sunday to InDepthNH.org’s question about the rule change.
“The American people expect their lawmakers to focus on the important issues facing our nation. I’m disappointed that one of the first actions by House Republicans was to change the ownership of office documents,” Kuster said in an email.
“It’s important that Congress is as transparent as possible, and I’ll continue to advocate for more openness in Washington.”
Sara Lord, a partner at Arnall Golden Gregory who used to prosecute public officials while at the Justice Department told OpenSecrets.org that the rule change was an overreach.
“I think what would concern me is that it would extend the member’s right to block production of documents that would otherwise have been treated as public records or official records that belong to the government,” Lord said.