Leahy Proposes Open Government Amendment To Wall Street Reform Bill

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) yesterday filed an amendment to the pending Wall Street reform legislation to protect the identity of whistleblowers while ensuring transparency for the public in financial fraud cases.  The amendment removes language from the bill that, in some cases, would indefinitely shield critical information about financial fraud from the public.

The Leahy-authored provision eliminates the overbroad confidentiality provision in the current legislation and replaces it with language that will protect the confidentiality of the whistleblower identity while ensuring the public’s right to know.  It also eliminates a provision in the bill that would prevent whistleblowers from obtaining information from the government that could help them establish a claim of whistleblower retaliation.  Last week, Leahy along with Judiciary Committee Members Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) filed an amendment to increase law enforcement resources to root out and prosecute financial and securities fraud, and will strengthen protections for whistleblowers who help expose financial fraud.

“The recent economic crisis has revealed how corporate greed must be reigned in on Wall Street,” Leahy said.  “While average Americans were suffering, many Wall Street investment banks and insurance companies went to great lengths to hide their shaky finances from stockholder and government regulators.  This underscores the importance of ensuring that whistleblowers are provided the necessary protections to come forward with allegations of financial fraud.  I hope the Senate will work to include this amendment to provide consumers with the protection they deserve and hold financial firms accountable.”

The amendment does not change existing disclosure requirements and exemptions under FOIA, but requires that government regulators treat information that reveals the identity of whistleblowers as confidential.   Specifically, under the amendment, government regulators would be required not to disclose whistleblower identity information without the whistleblower’s consent, and the government would be required to notify the whistleblower if information about his or her identify will be shared with other government agencies or foreign authorities assisting with an investigation.  The amendment is supported by open government organizations including the Project on Government Oversight, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, OpenThe Government.org, Public Citizen, and the Progressive States Network.

The Senate is debating critical reforms to head off the Wall Street fraud and abuses that have so severely impacted the nation’s economy and financial institutions.  The amendment strengthens whistleblower protections that have been included in other recent legislation and complements those protections already included in the Wall Street reform legislation.  Whistleblowers serve an important role in exposing financial fraud. 

Leahy is a longtime leader in open government issues, and last week, the Senate unanimously passed legislation he authored with Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to help address agency backlogs in processing FOIA requests.  The Faster FOIA Act is now pending before the House.

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