Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Can Corruption In Government Be Legislated Out Of Existence By... Corrupt Politicians?


While the DCCC (+ EMILY's List and the Republican billionaires funding No Labels) are busy making sure conservative, status quo Democrats prevail in primaries, stalwart progressives are offering hope to voters by offering new programs that will never be passed, largely because even with a big Democratic majority in the House, too many of them will always oppose anything they sense is "too progressive." Take, for example, Elizabeth Warren's just-introduced Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act. It may make sense to average Americans, but average congressional careerists will recoil from it in horror. This is what it feels to do:
Padlock the Revolving Door and Increase Public Integrity by eliminating both the appearance and the potential for financial conflicts of interest; banning Members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, federal judges, and other senior government officials from owning and trading individual stock; locking the government-to-lobbying revolving door; and eliminating "golden parachutes."

End Lobbying as We Know It by exposing all influence-peddling in Washington; banning foreign lobbying; banning lobbyists from donating to candidates and Members of Congress; strengthening congressional independence from lobbyists; and instituting a lifetime ban on lobbying by former Members of Congress, Presidents, and agency heads.

End Corporate Capture of Public Interest Rules by requiring disclosure of funding or editorial conflicts of interest in rulemaking comments and studies; closing loopholes corporations exploit to tilt the rules in their favor and against the public interest; protecting agencies from corporate capture; establishing a new Office of Public Advocate to advocate for the public interest in the rulemaking process; and giving agencies the tools to implement strong rules that protect the public.

Improve Judicial Integrity and Defend Access to Justice for All Americans by enhancing the integrity of the judicial branch; requiring the Supreme Court follow the ethics rules for all other federal judges; boosting the transparency of federal appellate courts through livestreaming audio of proceedings; and encouraging diversity on the federal bench.

Strengthen Enforcement of Anti-Corruption, Ethics, and Public Integrity Laws by creating a new, independent anti-corruption agency dedicated to enforcing federal ethics laws and by expanding an independent and empowered Congressional ethics office insulated from Congressional politics.

Boost Transparency in Government and Fix Federal Open Records Laws by requiring elected officials and candidates for federal office to disclose more financial and tax information; increasing disclosure of corporate money behind Washington lobbying; closing loopholes in federal open records laws; making federal contractors - including private prisons and immigration detention centers - comply with federal open records laws; and making Congress more transparent.
The immediate headline wasn't that Elizabeth Warren is taking on corruption but that Elizabeth Warren wants to ban members of Congress from owning individual stocks. And who has to vote on that again?

Doesn't this seem more consequential and more important for the public good?
Warren's bill would also impose a lifetime ban on lobbying for presidents and federal lawmakers, and would bar U.S. lobbyists from using foreign cash to affect American policy. It would slap new taxes on "excessive lobbying" of more than $500,000 a year. It would bind Supreme Court justices to a code of conduct recognized by other federal judges.
In her speech Monday, Warren began by establishing how mistrusted government is today. In 1958, 73% of Americans said they trusted the government to do the right thing most of the time. After Watergate the number went down to 36% and this year the number is... 18%. "Not even one in five Americans today," Warren told her fellow senators, "trust their government to do the right thing. I'd love to stand here and tell you that this was some sudden drop after Donald Trump was elected, but that wouldn't be true. This problem is far bigger than Trump. The way I see it, a loss of faith this broad, and this profound, is more than a problem-- it is a crisis. A crisis of faith. This is the kind of crisis that leads people to turn away from democracy. The kind of crisis that forces people to stop believing in what we can do together. The kind of crisis that creates fertile ground for cynicism and discouragement. The kind of crisis that gives rise to authoritarians."

She went on to talk about how conservatives have denigrated the role of government. She obliquely referred to Reagan, but I couldn't help but think of the obscure Ohio Democratic congressional candidate in OH-01, Aftab Pureval who I mentioned yesterday as a Republican-lite candidate running on a platform of shrinking government. "Government," she explained, "can be a powerful force for good-- but only when it works for the people. And the American people understand that today, it doesn't. Our national crisis of faith in government boils down to this simple fact: 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... They're right."
At a time when this country faces enormous challenges, our government actively serves the richest and most powerful and turns its back on everyone else.

At a time of skyrocketing inequality and stagnant wages for the middle class, our government is giving gargantuan handouts to the wealthiest Americans.

At a time when mass incarceration grinds down human beings and destroys communities of color, our government is putting more cash into the for-profit prison industry.

At a time when sea levels are rising and the health threats posed by climate change are accelerating by the day, our government is handing over both taxpayer money and federally protected lands to the fossil fuel industry.

At a time of staggering drug prices and soaring out of pocket costs, our government tucks tail and runs away from any serious challenge to big Pharma and greedy insurance companies.

At a time of crippling student loan debt, our government is bending over backwards to help bogus for-profit colleges and student loan companies get richer by cheating students.

Across the board, our government-our government-is failing to fix the problems that face our working families. Instead, it's making the problems worse by giving more money, more power, and more advantages to those who already have all three.

And so often-- whether it leads to poisoned water or toxic bank loans-- communities of color are hit first and hit hardest. Our government systematically favors the rich over the poor, the donor class over the working class, the well-connected over the disconnected.

This is deliberate, and we need to call this what it is-- corruption, plain and simple.

Corruption has seeped into the fabric of our government, tilting thousands of decisions away from the public good and toward the desires of those at the top. And, over time, bit by bit, like a cancer eating away at our democracy, corruption has eroded Americans' faith in our government.

I know that's a stark assessment. But I'm not here to describe the death of democracy. I'm here to talk about fighting back. I'm here because I believe that change is hard, but change is possible.

Change can start with reforming how our largest companies operate. Last week, I introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act, which would restore the once-common idea that giant American corporations should look out for a broad range of American stakeholders. By requiring our largest companies to seat workers on their boards, limiting the ability of executives to get rich quick off short-term stock price bumps, and giving shareholders and Directors a real say in corporate political spending, this bill could go a long way toward restoring real economic democracy in America. And in the process, it would ensure that when American businesses engage with our government, they are speaking on behalf of their entire communities-- and not simply as megaphones for the wealthy and the powerful.

Getting American corporations to start acting like responsible American citizens is an important first step toward limiting corruption. But broader changes are needed.

Today, I'm introducing the most ambitious anti-corruption legislation proposed in Congress since Watergate. This is an aggressive set of reforms that would fundamentally change the way Washington does business. These reforms have one simple aim: to take power in Washington away from the wealthy, the powerful, and the well-connected who have corrupted our government and put power back in the hands of the American people.

We can do this. We must do this. And when we do, we will restore the faith of the American people-- not just in our government, but faith in democracy itself.

The recent explosion of big political spending has delivered a gut-punch to our democracy. I do what I can by not taking any PAC money or any money from federal lobbyists. There's a lot of work to do on campaign finance, starting with overturning Citizens United. But that's not nearly enough. The corrupting influence of big money in Washington reaches much further than political campaigns.

Big money eats away at the heart of our democracy. Over the last few decades, it has created a pervasive culture of soft corruption that colors virtually every important decision in Washington.

Consider a couple of examples:

First, the rich and powerful buy their way into Congressional offices. Exhibit A: Mick Mulvaney. After he left Congress, Mulvaney told a roomful of bankers that he had a rule in his office: if a lobbyist didn't give him money, the lobbyist didn't get a meeting-he met only with those lobbyists who ponied up for his campaign war chest. Today, Mulvaney is President Trump's head of the Office of Management and Budget and the person running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And when he made these comments right out in public with the press listening in, Trump and pretty much every Republican in Washington just shrugged.

The rich and powerful also offer up some pretty nice gifts for public servants to do their bidding. In the early 2000s, Congressman Billy Tauzin started pushing an idea: expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs. Good for seniors-in fact, life saving for some. But also very good for Big Pharma-more prescriptions filled, more money coming in.

And it might all have landed there, with seniors getting drug coverage and drug companies selling more drugs-- but Big Pharma wanted more.  Number one on their list was a flat prohibition on the worrisome possibility that the government might actually negotiate for lower drug prices.  And Billy delivered-- which I'm sure had nothing to do with the more than $200,000 in campaign contributions the Congressman received from the drug industry.

Today, Big Pharma rakes in billions from seniors on Medicare while charging sky-high prices for the drugs they need-and no one in government can negotiate those prices. And what happened to Billy?

In December of 2003, the very same month the bill was signed into law, PhRMA-- the drug companies' biggest lobbying group-- dangled the possibility that Billy could be their next CEO.

In February of 2004, Congressman Tauzin announced that he wouldn't seek re-election. Ten months later, he became CEO of PhRMA-- at an annual salary of $2 million. Big Pharma certainly knows how to say "thank you for your service."

Sometimes the payoff comes upfront.  Goldman Sachs handed Gary Cohn over a quarter of a billion dollars on his way out the door to become the head of President Trump's National Economic Council. A quarter of a billion dollars to help quarterback a tax package that included giveaways worth just over a quarter of a billion to Goldman-- in the first quarter of 2018 alone. That's quite the return on investment for Goldman Sachs. For the taxpayers who paid Mr. Cohn's salary and were under the mistaken impression that Mr. Cohn was working for them, the return was not so good.

The examples are everywhere these days. A Commerce Secretary who acts like a cartoon version of a Wall Street fat cat, awash in financial conflicts, intertwined with Russian financial interests, suspected of swindling millions from his business partners and using his official position to pump up his fortune through shady stock trading. An EPA Administrator who resigns in disgrace over corruption, only to be replaced with another EPA Administrator who belongs in the coal baron's hall of fame. A Congressman facing indictment for insider trading.

Let's face it: there's no real question that the Trump era has given us the most nakedly corrupt leadership this nation has seen in our lifetimes. But they are not the cause of the rot-- they're just the biggest, stinkiest example of it.

Corruption is a form of public cancer, and Washington's got it bad. It's time for treatment, time to isolate and quarantine the ability of big money to infect the decisions made every day by every branch of our government.

...Washington corruption is not a small problem, and it will not be rooted out with small solutions. In addition to the big changes I talked about today, my legislation contains dozens more ideas to promote clean government, from giant reforms to small tweaks and everything in between.

These changes will require everyone who runs for or who holds office to change at least some of their practices-- including me. Many of these ideas challenge the most fundamental assumptions about how business is currently done in our nation's capital. Inside Washington, some of these proposals will be very unpopular, even with some of my friends. Outside Washington, I expect that most people will see these ideas as no-brainers and be shocked they're not already the law.

I'm sure the people who make big money off the current system will yell and scream and spend millions of dollars trying to stop these changes. And the all-day-long pundits and Washington insiders who live in the same neighborhoods and eat at the same sushi bars and go to the same book parties will say ‘this will never pass' and try to color me naïve for even trying. But it's that kind of self-serving group-think that's allowed corruption to spread through this town for decades.

Besides, such nay-saying ignores our history: Our country has responded to deep corruption with bold action before.

I won't pretend to be sure I've gotten everything exactly right. I'm willing and eager to discuss the details.  My bill proposes a year-long transition for people to adapt to the new system before these changes would go into effect. But here is my promise: I plan to fight to pass as many of these reforms as possible. I believe we can break the stranglehold that the wealthy and well-connected hold over our government. I believe we can get our democracy working again.
Kara Eastman, the progressive Democrat who is tearing it up in Omaha with her powerful door-to-door grassroots campaign, agrees with Warren. "One thing that most voters I speak with at their doors agree on is that money and corruption in politics and Washington are a fundamental threat to our democracy. As a non-millionaire running for Congress, I have seen first-hand how difficult fundraising can be and therefore, how challenging it is to be viewed as a viable candidate. Public servants in general are no longer beholden to their constituents but rather to large corporations and wealthy donors. We desperately need to bring government back to the people and start serving regular working Americans in order to get our country back on track."

Russ Feingold was one of the first endorsers: "This bill is a bold and comprehensive set of policy solutions that would fundamentally change the way Washington works. It includes new protections against runaway campaign spending, but it also addresses the broad, corrupting influence of corporations over federal government policymaking." And another Wisconsinite is as enthusiastic as Feingold. Yesterday Randy Bryce told me that "It’s a simple choice. Serve people or serve oneself. Citizens United opened up the floodgates to corruption and a terrific way to show one is running to put others first is to get behind Senator Warren with this."

My friend Roberto Rodriguez, a former congressional candidate and an Obama Treasury Department official, came up with a good idea:

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, was certainly enthusiastic. "There is a danger," he noted, "that the spotlight on President Donald Trump’s outrageous transgressions of ethics standards and unprecedented, global conflicts of interest will blind us to the more pervasive corporate corruption of our government. Corporate corruption has hit its nadir with the Trump administration, but it is a historical, structural and bipartisan problem. That is why Public Citizen is so enthused to endorse Warren’s breakthrough Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, sweeping legislation to root out corporate corruption and return our government to We the People... No single reform, nor even any single set of reforms, can solve this problem. But Warren’s bill would peel away layers of corruption. Too frequently-- indeed, characteristically in the Trump administration-- revolving door lobbyists and corporate representatives gain control of regulatory agencies, putting them in charge of setting and enforcing the rules for the very industries they previously represented and, typically, will represent again after leaving government. The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act slams shut the revolving door, significantly through the creation of a new legal category of 'corporate lobbyist,' for whom revolving door rules are airtight... If adopted and coupled with comprehensive campaign finance reform, the American people would regain faith in their government, which would again start working for the people, not the rich and powerful. That’s what’s at stake, and it’s why this anti-corruption legislation is so desperately needed."

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At 5:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What, another long piece trying to answer the rhetorical question in the title?

Look, nobody in elected government is going to unilaterally disarm from their lifetime potential to "earn" (the "Sopranos" interpretation) from their position of influence.

Also, passing another law that will clearly be ignored by those tasked with its enforcement cannot help. We already know that laws regarding finance fraud, the Geneva accords on torture, treason, Sherman antitrust and anything else committed by the rich, powerful and celebrities don't matter because nobody enforces them.

This stinks of more sheepdogging by Warren, though I still see maybe a 10% chance that she might actually be sincere... but if she's as intelligent as people believe, she cannot really be serious. She knows that the executive branch has to be fixed before any laws fixing the 3 (!) branches will matter.

In fact, this cirles back to my premise again. Only voters can fix this shithole. Voters must make Warren's entire party just go the fuck away. Voters must replace it with a true left movement dedicated to efficacy, honesty and altruism.

The swamp cannot and shall never fix itself.

At 6:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If adopted and coupled with comprehensive campaign finance reform, the American people would regain faith in their government..."

Nah. the only thing that would restore the faith (note the 'unquestioned' implication herein) of SOME would be if that government put several dozen of its own plus many dozens of bankers, cheney, Rumsfeld, Obama and trump in prison for so many violations of so many laws that have not been enforced for decades. It also must break up monopolies and trusts, restore net neutrality, fix the water in Flynt, shut down all coal plants and mines... oh so many things it will never, ever do.

New laws won't do shit. We've seen that.

At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As long as corporations abuse the knowledge stolen from Sigmund Freud by his nephew Edward Bernays and used against the American People at the behest of Woodrow Wilson, there is little chance of ridding the American political system of the corruption that is money.

At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So... Impeachment Is On The Table-- But Can You Impeach A Whole Party?

Yes, DWT, the Democratic party surely does need to be impeached.

At 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second the motion of 2:53.

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Twelve Counts of Impeachment Against the "democratic" Party

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only way to impeach anything is for voters to do it. And voters are far too stupid and complacent and fearful to ever do that.

No. the whole thing needs to burn to the ground. we'll see what grows in its place... if anything. Those who survive might get lucky. Might not.

The only thing we should all be quite sure of: If voters don't change at least the democrap party, nothing at all will ever change. These parties won't ever fix themselves... there are billions per year they'd have to turn their noses up at. Won't ever happen.


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