Trump and Republicans have a massive corruption problem. Democrats must run on bold political reforms that really will drain the swamp. Here are 3 to start.
A basic and fundamental building block of our democracy — the principle that our government should represent the people — is currently under withering attack. President Donald Trump promised as a candidate that he would drain the swamp in Washington. But the damning news about Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen proves that, from the very beginning, Trump’s inner circle and campaign leadership were stocked with criminals.
And since he has assumed office, a significant and growing number of Americans have increasingly recognized that the president, the members of his administration and Republicans at large have betrayed their trust. They say overwhelmingly that Trump has failed to set a high moral standard for his presidency and they have saddled top Trump administration officials with record low marks on ethics. They now see the Republican Party in its true light: as the Party of Corruption.
Our new research shows that more than 70 percent of the public want our government to take a more active role in solving the greatest issues confronting our nation. At the same time, more than 85 percent also say the federal government primarily serves the interests of large corporations, the wealthy, and campaign contributors.
Suspicious and unscrupulous behavior
It should come as no surprise that this crisis of confidence has worsened under the Trump administration. Just consider a small sample of their many suspicious and unscrupulous actions that have been performed by Trump’s allies since he entered the White House: Rep. Chris Collins, the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for president, was recently arrested for allegedly perpetrating an insider trading scheme while on the board of a foreign pharmaceutical company. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the second congressman to endorse Trump, was indicted last week for illegally using campaign funds for personal enrichment.
Tom Price resigned as Health and Human Services secretary after spending $400,000 in federal money on private jet travel. Scott Pruitt stepped down as Environmental Protection Agency administrator amid a dizzying list of abuses. And Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has confessed that while serving in Congress, he only met with lobbyists after they ponied up a donation.
Yet it is not only the abuse of taxpayer dollars (or the rampant appearance of public corruption under Trump) that is eroding faith in our political institutions. Americans understand that Washington’s pernicious system of back-scratching produces policies that hurt working- and middle-class families. They know our elected officials are beholden to the corrupting power of their donors — that they prioritize the interests of the top 1 percent by writing laws which mainly benefit these same donors.
The recent Republican Party tax cuts perfectly illustrate why such fears are completely justified. Even as Republicansstruggle to selltheir signature legislative achievement, they are reaping huge benefits from the law by collecting millions in donations from the rich donors and corporate interests who received its enormous handouts.
What’s clear is that the public is fed up with the status quo in Washington, and that this anger is transforming our politics. In many campaigns, we’re seeing that incumbency in Congress is a hindrance, not a help. Democratic candidates have successfully rallied support while rejecting donations from corporate political action committees — from Conor Lamb’s shocking win in Pennsylvania to Beto O’Rourke’s surging momentum in his race to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas.
That is why, moving forward, bold political reforms must be central to the Democratic Party’s platform. Fortunately, there are three concrete steps our government can take to dramatically curb the insidious influence of donors and special interests.
Rein in the lobbyists and special interests
First, lobbyists should be barred from fundraising on behalf of members of Congress. This would end the kind of pay-to-play behavior embraced by the likes of Mulvaney, and prevent well-connected special interests and donors from playing the role of puppeteer in shaping the policy agendas of elected officials. Democrats in both chambers have already included such a ban as part of a sweeping proposal designed to strengthen our country’s ethics laws, reform our system of campaign finance, and empower American voters.
Second, members of congressional committees should not be allowed to accept campaign contributions from the same industries they are entrusted with overseeing. Until two weeks ago, Collins sat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and was responsible for regulating health care companies — even as he allegedly orchestrated an insider trading scheme involving a pharmaceutical manufacturer. Our current system gives too many businesses the chance to exploit potential conflicts of interests by donating to politicians willing to put personal gain over the common good.
Third, members of Congress should be prohibited from sitting on the boards of for-profit companies — whether in a paid or unpaid capacity — or from owning individual stocks in such entities. Sen. Elizabeth Warren included this type of prohibition in the expansive anti-corruption package she introduced last week. Her rules would finally stop many lawmakers from abusing their official positions for financial gain.
These three proposals can be part of a new movement to exterminate the culture of corruption festering in Washington under Trump, and take the first critical steps toward restoring the strength of our democracy. Voters are demanding that Congress dismantle the stranglehold special interests hold over too many elected officials, and put power back into the hands of the people. It is time for America’s leaders to answer their call.
Neera Tanden is the CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Follow her on Twitter: @neeratanden
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