In a Tuesday morning speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) unveiled her Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act. Billed as an effort to “eliminate the influence of money in our federal government,” the proposed bill takes aim at the excesses of K Street and its pernicious “revolving door” ethos, as well as enhancing existing anti-corruption laws and government transparency efforts.
In her presentation, Warren cast her efforts as an urgent need, noting that poll after poll indicated that Americans have, by and large, lost faith in the institution of government to do right by ordinary Americans.
“Our national crisis of faith in government boils down to this simple fact,” said Warren, “People don’t trust their government to do the right thing because they think government works for the rich, the powerful and the well-connected and not for the American people.”
“And here’s the kicker — they’re right,” she added.
Warren’s proposal comes at a time when evidence of Beltway corruption is lush. Among the miscreants cited by the Massachusetts senator were several Trump officials, including Mick Mulvaney — the former congressman who bragged about only giving his time to the lobbyists who ponied up for his campaign coffers, and who now runs the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — as well as Gary Cohn, who took a quarter-billion dollar golden Goldman Sachs parachute with him to Washington and returned the favor with a slew of lucrative tax giveaways.
But the ministrations of Trump’s cronies weren’t foremost on the senator’s mind. “I’d love to stand here and tell you that this was some sudden drop after Donald Trump was elected,” Warren said, “but that wouldn’t be true — this problem is far bigger than Trump.”
Indeed, much of what Warren’s bill proposes to do would bring radical change to the way Washington has done business, long before Trump even got into politics.
Under Warren’s proposal, Beltway influence peddlers would take it on the chin in some substantial ways. The first thing that the Ant-Corruption and Public Integrity Act would do is “padlock the revolving door between big business and government” by enacting a lifetime ban on elected and appointed officials from becoming lobbyists after they leave office. The bill would further “fix the Swiss cheese definition” of lobbying by including those who practice the trade of lobbying under another name — as, to cite just one example, former Sen.Tom Daschle (D-SD) famously did as a “senior policy advisor” at DLA Piper — under that ban.
The bill would also require “public disclosure of any documents that lobbyists provide to government officials,” enact a “windfall tax on excessive lobbying,” and raise the pay of congressional staffers so that Capitol Hill’s low-paid functionaries “don’t feel compelled to audition for jobs with influence peddlers when they should be standing up to them.”
Warren’s bill would also ban Americans from being paid by foreign governments to lobby Congress, a practice which, while having something of a heyday in the spotlight thanks to the ongoing criminal trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, has long been a Beltway debauch. “If foreign governments want to express their views,” declared Warren, “they can use their diplomats.”
In addition to these heat-seeking missiles aimed squarely at K Street, Warren’s proposal would take several substantial steps to ending the corporate capture of rulemakers and regulators, tighten ethics restrictions on federal judges and elected officials so as to prevent bribes and gifts from influencing their decisions, end the practice of stock trading among members of Congress beyond “conflict-free investments like mutual funds,” and create a new transparency regime that would bring the financial and tax histories of elected officials into the light as well as closing loopholes in open records laws that currently allow influence peddlers to obscure their dealings.
Warren’s anti-corruption proposal comes hard on the heels of the Accountable Capitalism Act she introduced last week, which among other things would mandate that chartered corporations in the United States would have to offer forty percent of their board of director seats to workers and prohibit corporations from making political expenditures that did not have the approval of three-quarters of its directors and shareholders.
While neither bill would likely receive enough votes to reach President Trump’s desk — which means most observers are likely to treat these proposals as nothing more than evidence of a possible presidential run for Warren — they nevertheless provide Democrats with ambitious policy proposals to discuss on the campaign trail.
“I plan to fight to pass as many of these reforms as possible,” Warren promised today. “I believe we can break the stranglehold that the wealthy and well-connected hold over our government.”