Ethical & Effective Government

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Minimizing Money’s Corrosive Effect on Government

I hate that “money is speech” in American contemporary politics.

On one hand, I am personally flattered and encouraged by the tremendous financial support people in and around my life have contributed to my campaign and that we are considered because of that a serious threat to break the science-denying, myopic Republican stranglehold on this district.

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On the other hand, the marketplace of ideas and values should always win out, and good ideas should not be drowned out by a much better-funded opposition. A status quo exists in which elected officials and their staff are constantly tempted by financial support, both immediately tangible and in the future. You must raise money, constantly, or you are no longer viable for the office, incumbent or not. For the sake of our republic, this all must change.

The United States faces historic levels of disengagement because people by and large don’t believe their elected officials work for them any more. Their government is ultimately in the hands of the benefactors of those in power. Those who can pay for campaigns and for lobbyists and super PACs use that influence to distort policy outcomes in a way that benefits the few at the expense of the many. The revolving door between Congress and K Street is among the biggest impediments to moving the needle on issues that exists today. Without addressing this pressing issue, it will be difficult to accomplish any meaningful reform.

Until we genuinely do all we can to take money out of politics, not just in elections, but by also by restricting the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street, grass roots action will be inherently disadvantaged. It’s one thing to claim to “drain the swamp,” but a fetid swamp is still a fetid swamp until we systematically change the ecosystem. In order to address this, I will fight for specific,  innovative steps to remove the corrosive effect money has from politics.

Increase Transparency Requirements for Outside Groups

Super PACs, the veiled organizations that emerged from the disastrous Citizens United decision, solicit and collect limitless contributions but are only required to file donors’ information quarterly in general election years and on a semi-annual basis in odd-numbered years. As a result, the largest single donors to throw millions into a particular race in the weeks and months leading to an election without voters knowing who is behind those campaigns until well after the race is over.

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The situation gets even more opaque with 501(c)(4) “social welfare groups” who are not required to disclose their donors whatsoever under current IRS rules, despite increasing levels of political activity. These groups are playing an increasing large role in campaign finance precisely because of their secrecy. These groups legally operate entirely beyond the realm of disclosure and can exert their influence by funding candidates and super PACs with public anonymity. This must change.

To begin to chip away at the unaccountable influence of these organizations, increased disclosure rules should require more frequent filing deadlines for entities that do file, with mandatory 24-hour reporting for large contributions. Additionally, we must require migration from any disclosure forms without machine-readable data; these absurd legacy tools only serve as a justification for the lack of timely reporting.

These transparency improvements allow the essential work of journalists, researchers, and members of the public working to expose money’s enormous influence on politics in realtime, and could serve as a tangible, practical fix to some of the most severe cases that have fundamentally fractured the public’s trust.

Innovative Public Funding for Elections

Theodore Roosevelt first proposed public financing of elections in his 1907 State of the Union speech. While the presidential election matching fund has not kept up with contemporary realities of political life, smart public servants committed to the public good have come up with innovative solutions.

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Representative John Sarbanes has proposed legislation that would provide House candidates with a way to raise funds based on the support of ordinary Americans, rather than just the 1%. Pursuant to the Government By The People Act, a paradigm is established in which candidates limit individual contributions to their campaigns to no more than $1,000. For each dollar they receive of $150 or less in contributions would trigger a contribution of public funds at a 6-to-1 ratio. In order to receive the funds, candidates would have to decline to accept contributions from political action committees, unless those PACs also complied with a requirement that they only accept contributions of $150 or less. To encourage more people to participate by make contributions, donors would receive a 50% tax refund on the first $50 of donations to any candidate, so that a $50 contribution would bring a $25 tax refund. I applaud Representative Sarbanes’ attempts to establish a new campaign finance paradigm and will strongly support efforts to pass similar legislation.

Slow the Revolving Door Between K Street, Wall Street & Capitol Hill

Last year, Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representative Elijah Cummings introduced a bill titled the Financial Services Conflict of Interest Act. This legislation would change a variety of ethics laws around presidential appointments. The bill would ban the process of wealthy corporations giving excessive compensation to employees who leave for government jobs, which creates a system where the fox guards the hen house. Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and others have granted these bonuses, which provide incentives for bank executives to assume positions regulating the industries that just so richly compensated them, and likely will again once they complete their “government service.” These government positions should be filled by people whose aim is service, not to leverage the access to power to enrich themselves and their benefactors.

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The Baldwin–Cummings legislation proposes doubling prohibitions on former executive branch officials from lobbying the government, from one to two years. It expands “lobbying contact” to close the substantial and brazen loopholes permitted by the status quo, and cover any and all lobbying activities. Executive branch personnel would have to remove their involvement in any official activities that would assist former employers or clients they might have held a lobbyist.

We all know this happens, and it’s whittling away people’s faith in their elected officials. This should appall every patriotic American, and must end. I strongly support this legislation as a model to end the executive branch’s revolving door, and am committed to restricting the legislative revolving door in a similar fashion, with substantially increased transparency.