Published December 23, 2008
Caroline Kennedy is refusing to disclose her financial records as she pursues an appointment to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate, drawing criticism from ethics experts and watchdog groups that say the public has a right to scrutinize her background.
But because Kennedy is not a candidate in a general election -- she is seeking an appointment to the post from New York Gov. David Paterson -- she is well within her rights to keep a lid on her financial records. And she benefits from freedoms that elected candidates do not enjoy.
"The voters have no role in this," said Kenneth Gross, an election attorney in Washington, D.C.
"There really is no procedure. She just has to be 30 and resident. Once she meets those two requirements, she is eligible to be a senator."
Forty-two states -- including Colorado, Delaware, Illinois and New York, all of which are losing senators to the Obama administration -- allow governors to appoint a replacement when a U.S. Senate seat becomes vacant.
For Kennedy and other possible appointees in those four states, the path to office is a much easier one than a general election.
Appointees don't have to hire campaign staff, raise funds, gladhand voters, kiss babies or attend town halls. They don't have to answer reporters' questions, submit Federal Election Commission filings or reveal their sources of income.
Campaign finance disclosure laws require candidates running for election to reveal where they're getting their money from and how they're spending it -- an effort to guard against political corruption and to inform voters, said Paul Ryan, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center.
But those laws, enforced by the FEC, do not cover potential political appointees, because the legal authority of the appointment belongs to the governors, not the voters.
The Senate has financial disclosure rules that sitting senators must file by May 15, but those rules do not extend to potential appointees until after they are seated.
Paterson has said he will conduct an extensive background check on any potential appointee to the vacant New York seat, including verification of employment and education, a review of tax returns and a criminal background check.
Democratic strategist Bob Beckel said if Paterson is worried about Kennedy's financial records, he'll ask to see them.
"But he doesn't have to make it public to the New York media," Beckel told FOX News. "You make it public to them, you might as well hang yourself out to dry forever. What if she doesn't get the job?"
Even so, some political analysts say Kennedy should release her financial data.
"It would be a smart idea to release the information now because ever since Obama has campaigned on the theme of change, he's been campaigning as the anti-politician," Republican strategist Ron Bonjean told FOX News.
"And for Caroline Kennedy to be part of that, she needs to release her records. She needs to show the people of New York what she doesn't have to hide," he continued.
"Every day that goes by that she doesn't release her records, people think 'Geez, what's wrong? What is she hiding?' If she's running for United State senator, if she's a senator, she has to disclose it anyway, so why not just do it now?"
Despite her ability to raise money without federal supervision as a potential appointee, Kennedy will be subject to scrutiny if she gets the seat because she will have to disclose the gifts she received in 2008, Gross said.
Scrutiny may become more welcome now that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been arrested on suspicion of slapping a price tag on President-elect Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. Despite his legal woes, Blagojevich, who faces indictment and possibly impeachment, maintains appointment power over Obama's replacement.
Last month, Democratic Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner appointed Vice President-elect Joe Biden's chief of staff, Ted Kaufman, to his Senate seat. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, will have to appoint a replacement for Sen. Ken Salazar, who was tapped by Obama to head the Interior Department.