Why Obama, Part V: EthicsFebruary 6, 2008
Lobbyists Write National Policies: For example, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force of oil and gas lobbyists met secretly to develop national energy policy.
Secrecy Dominates Government Actions: The Bush administration has ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the “state secrets” privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court.
Wasteful Spending is Out of Control: The current administration has abused its power by handing out contracts without competition to its politically connected friends and supporters. These abuses cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year.
Barack Obama’s Plan
Shine the Light on Washington Lobbying
- Centralize Ethics and Lobbying Information for Voters: Obama will create a centralized Internet database of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings in a searchable, sortable and downloadable format.
- Require Independent Monitoring of Lobbying Laws and Ethics Rules: Obama will use the power of the presidency to fight for an independent watchdog agency to oversee the investigation of congressional ethics violations so that the public can be assured that ethics complaints will be investigated.
- Support Campaign Finance Reform: Obama supports public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests. Obama introduced public financing legislation in the Illinois State Senate, and is the only 2008 candidate to have sponsored Senator Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) tough bill to reform the presidential public financing system.
Shine the Light on Federal Contracts, Tax Breaks and Earmarks
- Create a Public “Contracts and Influence” Database: As president, Obama will create a “contracts and influence” database that will disclose how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, and what contracts they are getting and how well they complete them.
- Expose Special Interest Tax Breaks to Public Scrutiny: Barack Obama will ensure that any tax breaks for corporate recipients — or tax earmarks — are also publicly available on the Internet in an easily searchable format.
- End Abuse of No-Bid Contracts: Barack Obama will end abuse of no-bid contracts by requiring that nearly all contract orders over $25,000 be competitively awarded.
- Sunlight Before Signing: Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.
- Shine Light on Earmarks and Pork Barrel Spending: Obama’s Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act will shed light on all earmarks by disclosing the name of the legislator who asked for each earmark, along with a written justification, 72 hours before they can be approved by the full Senate.
Bring Americans Back into their Government
- Hold 21st Century Fireside Chats: Obama will bring democracy and policy directly to the people by requiring his Cabinet officials to have periodic national broadband townhall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies.
- Make White House Communications Public: Obama will amend executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public.
- Conduct Regulatory Agency Business in Public: Obama will require his appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can see in person or watch on the Internet these debates.
- Release Presidential Records: Obama will nullify the Bush attempts to make the timely release of presidential records more difficult.
Free the Executive Branch from Special Interest Influence
- Close the Revolving Door on Former and Future Employers: No political appointees in an Obama administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration.
- Free Career Officials from the Influence of Politics: Obama will issue an executive order asking all new hires at the agencies to sign a form affirming that no political appointee offered them the job solely on the basis of political affiliation or contribution.
- Reform the Political Appointee Process: FEMA Director Michael Brown was not qualified to head the agency, and the result was a disaster for the people of the Gulf Coast. But in an Obama administration, every official will have to rise to the standard of proven excellence in the agency’s mission.
Barack Obama’s Record:
- Federal Ethics Reform: Obama and Senator Feingold (D-WI) took on both parties and proposed ethics legislation that was described as the “gold standard” for reform. It was because of their leadership that ending subsidized corporate jet travel, mandating disclosure of lobbyists’ bundling of contributions, and enacting strong new restrictions of lobbyist-sponsored trips became part of the final ethics bill that was signed into law. The Washington Post wrote in an editorial, “The final package is the strongest ethics legislation to emerge from Congress yet.”
- Google for Government: Americans have the right to know how their tax dollars are spent, but that information has been hidden from public view for too long. That’s why Barack Obama and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) passed a law to create a Google-like search engine to allow regular people to approximately track federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and loans online. The Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “It would enable the public to see where federal money goes and how it is spent. It’s a brilliant idea.”
- Illinois Reform: In 1998, Obama joined forces with former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon (D-IL) to pass the toughest campaign finance law in Illinois history. The legislation banned the personal use of campaign money by Illinois legislators and banned most gifts from lobbyists. Before the law was passed, one organization ranked Illinois worst among 50 states for its campaign finance regulations.
- A High Standard: Unlike other candidates Obama’s campaign refuses to accept contributions from Washington lobbyists and political action committees.
To me, this is one of the more important issues, and in this race I was looking for someone who could clearly reverse the trend that the Bush administration came to embody. This is an issue that effects the very core of our democracy. Is our government “of the people and for the people”, or is it simply guided by the whims and wishes of powerful donors, lobbyists, special interest groups and cronies?
Of the remaining candidates, Romney and Huckabee don’t even address this issue (at least, not on their websites), and McCain’s position is pretty light on specifics. Clinton, to her credit, does address it, but with such an established Washington political machine and extensive network, it lacks believability and it’s hard to look at this as much more than lip service. Clinton is running a campaign run by big donors, and where there are big donors there are usually expectations of big favors. Obama, on the other hand, has a certain amount of purity being a relative newcomer to Washington and is running his bid on an extraordinary amount of much more numerous and smaller donations. Where some see lack of experience, I see a man who hasn’t become corrupted by the system and is genuinely coming in to do the people’s business, which gives him a lot more credibility when it comes to what he has posted on his website for this issue.