Senator Elizabeth Warren made a powerful case for her new Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Her cheeks flushed as she launched into a full-throated condemnation of deep-seated corruption in government, especially under President Donald Trump. At one point, she lost her voice and had to stop for a sip of water, saying, “I get a little wound up on this.”
“This” is what she called the “most ambitious” anti-corruption legislation since Watergate. Her proposal would make ethics—instead of profits—the guiding principle of the corporate world, a move that would drastically alter the relationship between government officials and business chieftains. Anticipating criticisms that the plan is naïve, over-optimistic, and unattainable, Warren said that she was “not giving in to cynicism.”
Key features of the legislation:
- “Padlock the revolving door” that turns government officials into corporate players, and corporate players into government officials who, under Trump have eagerly dismantled regulations that once affected their sectors. Federal government officials would be subject to specific rules on transitioning into the corporate world after leaving an agency.
- “End lobbying as we know it” by devising stricter registration criteria for lobbyists, including registering anyone who uses money to influence the government. The legislation also proposes to make all lobbying activities (documents, meetings, bills, etc.) public and to tax excessive lobbying. Most importantly, Warren’s legislation would place lifetime prohibitions on all lobbying activities by presidents, vice presidents, members of Congress, and cabinet secretaries once they leave government.
- “End corporate capture” by clarifying the identity of entities that have written, funded, and contributed to research submitted to agencies. An Office of the Public Advocate would be established to make sure that public interests of citizens—not just corporate interests—are considered before agencies act.
- “Restore faith in courts” by creating stricter codes of conduct for all federal judges (including Supreme Court justices) and making courts more open and transparent for individuals and small businesses.
- “Stop self-dealing by public officials” by requiring all public officials and candidates to disclose their tax records and financial interests. The proposed legislation would also ban government officials from owning or trading company stocks while in office, and require them to utilize “conflict-free” investments (like mutual funds), so that policy decisions are not tainted by personal interests.
- “Strengthen enforcement” by creating an Office of Public Integrity, a new anti-corruption agency (Warren called it a “new sheriff”) that would enforce these ethics reforms.
Warren described corruption as a “cancer” that has “infected” American government, “eat[ing] away at the heart of our democracy.” She added that lobbying has been a longstanding problem that favors the wealthy and the well-connected, “kicking dirt in everyone else’s faces,” but recent excesses have culminated in the “nakedly corrupt” Trump presidency. Although she did target Republicans like Mick Mulvaney, the Office of Management and Budget director, and Gary Cohn, a one-time economic adviser who left in March, she indicated that she hoped her plan of “treatment” would attract “nonpartisan” support.
Warren’s rhetoric, including a “willingness to fight for real change” recalled themes from Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. She had an Obama-like optimism that change was possible, acknowledging that government can be a “powerful force for good.” Her words echoed those of Franklin Roosevelt: When FDR introduced the New Deal, he called it a “battle” and a “crusade to restore America to its own people.” American democracy, she said, is “worth fighting for.” As the Prospect’s Harold Meyerson has suggested, Warren ‘s proposals are tantamount to a second New Deal.
She emphasized that this “moment” in American needs to be named in order to harness the power of the American people to make change. The senator’s anti-corruption legislation is the latest act in her #EndCorruptionNow drama, after last week’s introduction of her Accountable Capitalism Act legislation and regular tweets about corruption.
We need to rip corruption out of Washington by the roots. I’ve got a new plan – the biggest anti-corruption bill since Watergate – to do exactly that. Join us in this fight: https://t.co/FaK9rJBpr8 #endcorruptionnow pic.twitter.com/NFDSuBu8Ai
— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) August 21, 2018