Elizabeth Warren’s Far-Reaching New Bill Aims To Actually Drain The Swamp

A key part of the Massachusetts senator's measure would require that candidates for federal office release their tax returns.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018.
Bloomberg/Getty Images

WASHINGTON ― Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled a sweeping plan on Tuesday to crack down on the lawful corruption she said has infected Washington policymaking.

In a speech at the National Press Club, Warren blamed the lack of public trust in government on the undue influence of wealthy special interests and laws too toothless to curb them.

She went on to announce legislation she’ll offer that contains six major reforms to remedy what she termed the “crisis of faith” in government.

The bill would reshape the federal government by, among other things, putting a “padlock” on the “revolving door” between government and the private sector; dramatically increasing regulation of lobbyists, and in some cases scaling back their activities significantly; tightening ethics standards for lawmakers, federal agencies and federal judges; and creating a new anti-corruption agency to enforce these regulations.

“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,” Warren said. “Outside Washington, I expect that most people will see these ideas as no-brainers and be shocked they’re not already the law.”

“The heart of this is to go to the most obscene parts of how money now influences Washington.”

- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

Warren’s legislation is ambitious and far-reaching, drawing upon her focus as a senator ― and before that as a civil servant and law professor ― on documenting and lamenting the noxious effects of lobbyists and special interests on public policy. She has especially decried Washington’s inadequate oversight of Wall Street under the Trump administration.

Warren’s bill would institute a lifetime ban on lobbying jobs for former federal elected or appointed officials. It also would require corporate lobbyists or criminally convicted CEOs to wait six years before taking a government job of any kind.

Given the current narrow definition of a registered lobbyist, however, the ban she proposes could be relatively easy to circumvent. So Warren’s legislation would expand who must register with the government as a lobbyist. It would also require lobbyists and lawmakers to disclose every meeting they have with one another, and tax companies’ lobbying efforts beyond a certain level of spending.

The bill would also prohibit lobbyists from contributing to federal campaigns and bar Americans from lobbying on behalf of foreign governments.

In a not-so-subtle dig at President Donald Trump, who has failed to make his tax returns public, Warren’s measure would require all candidates for Congress or the White House to disclose such information.

And to prevent insider trading, she would prohibit the president, members of Congress and senior federal agency heads from trading any stocks during their public service. All federal judges, including U.S. Supreme Court justices, would likewise be forbidden from trading stocks or accepting various gifts from wealthy individuals, corporations or ideological interest groups.

The bill also would require that think tanks and industry front groups that try to influence policy-making reveal their funding sources and the editorial standards they use for research they disseminate. Offering demonstrably faulty information would become a criminal offense.

Finally, Warren’s bill would create a new federal agency that she calls an “independent sheriff” to police all of these rules and “shine floodlights on government actions” through enforcement of public transparency.

The legislation notably omitted any new limits on campaign donations or campaign spending by outside groups.

Asked why she chose not to address such issues as donations by corporate political action committees, Warren said she decided to make lobbying the focus of her bill.

“The heart of this is to go to the most obscene parts of how money now influences Washington. And principally it’s these giant corporations that are hiring armies of lobbyists,” she said.

In the first part of her speech, Warren made clear that the “crisis” of big-money influence predated the Trump administration. But when singling out examples, Warren limited herself to actions taken during Republican administrations.

Asked by HuffPost to weigh in on the recent decision by Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez to renege on plans to ban fossil fuel industry donations to the party apparatus, Warren demurred.

“What I see is the problem all the way through the system here in Washington,” she said.

Pressed by another reporter to identify a single Democrat who exemplified the corruption trends she described, Warren named Mary Jo White, who chaired the Securities and Exchange Commission from 2013-2017 under then-President Barack Obama.

But while White was appointed by a Democrat, she described herself as an independent.

Warren’s decision to steer clear of thorny questions that would put her at odds with Democratic colleagues and other interest groups ― she also dodged a question about legislation protecting the rights of Palestinian children ― reflects the delicate path she is treading as she builds her national profile.

Unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a fellow New England populist and (like Warren) a rumored 2020 presidential contender, she has largely stayed out of public efforts to reform the Democratic Party as an institution and shape the ideological direction it pursues in primary contests. Warren, who is up for re-election in November, has instead used her considerable war chest to buoy official Democratic groups and ― with a few exceptions ― aid candidates who have already secured the party’s nomination.

But Warren has been willing to lambaste fellow Democratic senators who this year voted for a significant rollback of Wall Street regulations included in the 2010 Dodd-Frank reform law. She elicited particular anger from colleagues for naming those 17 senators in a fundraising email.

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