This Won’t Pass–But It Should

In addition to her Corporate Accountability measure, discussed yesterday, Senator Elizabeth Warren has introduced an “anti-corruption” bill, based on the highly dubious theory that We the People are capable of learning from our mistakes.

Nothing about Warren’s Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act should trigger Congressional outrage, but I predict that the blowback will be fierce; the Act’s assault on money in politics is pretty much guaranteed to enrage the plutocrats who are used to buying Congressional votes for their policy preferences.

As Vox describes it,

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) envisions a United States government in which presidential and vice presidential candidates must — by law — disclose eight years’ worth of tax returns and place any assets that could present a conflict of interest into a blind trust to be sold off (neither of which President Donald Trump has done).

Those two provisions are just the beginning.

Her proposed fix envisions a Washington where the president, vice president, Cabinet members, and congressional lawmakers have a lifetime ban on becoming lobbyists, and other federal workers have restrictions — albeit less severe — on entering lobbying firms. The act would also bar federal judges from owning individual stocks or accepting gifts or payments that could potentially influence the outcome of their rulings.

And in Warren’s plan — laid out in a new bill called the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act— this would all be overseen by a new US Office of Public Integrity, which would go after violators and usher in a new era of ethics law enforcement.

The idea is to “isolate and quarantine the ability of big money to infect the decisions made every day by every branch of our government,” she said in a speech on Tuesday. That means all three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.

The bill is designed to completely overhaul a system that has benefited politicians in both political parties. No more revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street, no more hiding tax returns, no more benefitting from inside information affecting stock ownership… Here are some of the key provisions:

  • lifetime ban on lobbying for presidents, vice presidents, members of Congress, federal judges, and Cabinet secretaries.
  • Multi-year lobbying bans for federal employees (both Congressional staffers and employees of federal agencies). The span of time would be at least two years, and six years for corporate lobbyists.
  • Requiring the president and vice president to place assets that could present a conflict of interest —including real estate—in a blind trust and sell them off.
  • Requiring the IRS to release eight years’ worth of tax returns for all presidential and vice presidential candidates, as well as requiring them to release tax returns during each year in office. The IRS would also have to release two years’ worth of tax returns for members of Congress, and require them to release tax returns for each lawmaker’s year in office.
  • Banning members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries, federal judges, White House staff, senior congressional staff, and other officials from owning individual stocks while in office.
  • Changing the rulemaking process of federal agencies to severely restrict the ability of corporations or industry to delay or influence rulemaking.
  • Creating a new independent US Office of Public Integrity, which would enforce the nation’s ethics laws, and investigate any potential violations. The office would also try to strengthen open records laws, making records more easily accessible to the public and the press.

The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act can be viewed as a companion, of sorts, to Warren’s  Accountable Capitalism Act, described in more detail in yesterday’s post.

Elizabeth Warren is often labeled “left-wing,” a description that says more about how tribal our politics has become than it does about her policy proposals. (Efforts to protect consumers from predatory business practices and the American public from corruption are neither Left or Right–unless you categorize upholding the rule of law as “Left.”)

Each of these measures goes to the heart of the problem being addressed; neither “nibbles” around the edges of systems that have outlived whatever utility they may once have had. Their virtue is that they “blow up” and replace systems that have become corrupted.

That virtue, of course, is also their fatal flaw, and why neither is likely to pass.