So far I have wrote about Barack Obama’s strong stands on public financing of elections and media reform. Today I am going to talk about his work making government more transparent and more ethical. These are area’s were he has gotten the most bills passed into law so hopefully this should be a interesting post.
Obama both has a long record of getting things done and a strong plan to keep on getting things accomplished. First I will talk about his record in both ethics reform and transparency and then I will talk about his great ethics reform plan.
First I will talk about his work passing ethics reform at the state and national level. Here is what he has had to say about passing ethics reform.
“When I arrived in Springfield a decade ago as a state Senator, people said it was too hard to take on the issue of money in politics, but I found folks on both sides of the aisle who were willing to listen, and we were finally able to pass the first major ethics reform in twenty-five years,” Obama said. “When I arrived in Washington eight years later, my party made me the point person on ethics, and I was determined to pass the strongest reform possible. This isn’t just the rhetoric of a campaign for me, this has been the cause of my life.”
He was one of the key figures in passing ethics reform when he was in the Illinois State Senate and in the United States Senate. First I will look at his work in the Illinois Senate.
When he was elected to the Illinois State Senate he told the Senate Democratic leader that he was willing to work hard and asked for tough assignments. One of them was leading the efforts for ethics reform for the Democratic caucus. He worked with former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon to pass it but it wasn’t easy and he took a lot of heat for it.
Obama faced tremendous resistance in his reform efforts; the Senate leader said he caught ‘pure hell’: “‘He caught pure hell,’ Mr. Jones said of Mr. Obama. ‘I actually felt sorry for him at times.’ … The job required negotiating across party lines to come up with reform proposals, then presenting them to the Democratic caucus. Senator Kirk Dillard, the Republican Senate president’s appointee, said, ‘Barack was literally hooted and catcalled in his caucus.’ On the Senate floor, Mr. Dillard said, ‘They would bark their displeasure at me, and then they’d unload on Obama.’ [New York Times, 7/30/2007]
Despite all the pressure from corrupt Illinois pols he still was able to pass reforms that “revolutionized” the system.
Ethics reforms championed by Obama ‘revolutionized’ the Illinois system: “The disclosure requirement ‘revolutionized Illinois’s system,’ said Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. By giving journalists immediate access to a database of expenditures and contributions, it transformed political reporting. It also, she said, ‘put Senator Obama on a launching pad and put the mantle of ethics legislator on his crown.'” [New York Times, 7/30/2007]
It wasn’t just revolutionary, it was historic. It was the strongest ethics law passed in over 25 years. 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.
When he got to Washington he didn’t stop working to clean up the system. In the wake of all the ethics scandals of 2005 and 2006 the Democrats appointed him as the point man on ethics reform. He worked with Russ Feingold to propose ethics legislation that was described as the “gold standard” for reform. The final bill that passed 96-2 wasn’t quite as strong but the strong legislation he proposed pushed the final legislation in the right direction. First lets look at the “gold standard” that he proposed, S.230.
Banning Lobbyists’ Gifts and Curbing Privately Funded Travel
* Prohibits lobbyists and organizations that retain or employ lobbyists from giving gifts to Members or staff. Includes exceptions for family members and personal friends, campaign contributions, informational materials, etc.
* Requires Members and campaigns to reimburse for the use of corporate jets at the charter rate rather than at first class airfare as is now required. Also requires disclosure of itinerary, purpose, and identity of others who were on the plane for any such trips.
* Includes new travel rules just adopted by the House of Representatives that would limit privately funded travel to one-day events with minimal lobbyist involvement. Only organizations that do not employ or retain lobbyists could pay for multi-day, educational trips. Pre-approval by the Ethics Committee for all privately funded travel is required.
* Prohibits lobbyists and entities that retain or employ lobbyists from throwing lavish parties honoring members at the party conventions.
Improving Enforcement of the Rules
* Includes the Lieberman-Collins proposal for an Office of Public Integrity to carry out independent investigations of ethics complaints.
Slowing the Revolving Door
* Increases cooling-off period for executive and legislative branch employees from one to two years. Former Members and very senior executive branch officials (cabinet members, heads of agencies) will be prohibited from engaging in lobbying activities as well as lobbying contacts for that period. This will prevent a former Member from supervising or designing a lobbying campaign while avoiding any direct contact with Members or staff.
* Former senior congressional staff will be restricted from making lobbying contacts to the entire house of Congress they worked for rather than just the employing office as under current law.
* Requires lobbyists to disclose on their lobbying registrations any previous employment with the executive or legislative branch, rather than only such employment within two years prior to acting as a lobbyist.
* Prohibits Members from engaging in negotiations for future employment as a lobbyist. Requires senior staff to disclose such negotiations for any future employment to the Ethics Committee and obtain guidance on avoiding possible conflicts of interest.
* Provides that any benefit available equally and only to all former members of the Senate shall not be available to former Senators who are registered lobbyists (e.g., floor privileges, gym membership).
* Prohibits the staff of a Senator from having any official contact with that Senator’s spouse or family members.
Improving Lobbying Disclosure
* Requires lobbying disclosure reports to be filed quarterly rather than semi-annually, and requires electronic filing and Internet searchable databases to improve public accessibility.
* Requires disclosure of the earmarks that lobbyists have sought for their clients.
* Requires disclosure of grassroots lobbying expenditures.
* Requires disclosure of members of lobbying coalitions.
* Requires lobbyists to disclose political contributions they make or collect, fundraisers they hold, and donations to presidential libraries, inaugural committees, and charities associated with Members of Congress.
* Requires recipients of federal funds to disclose the lobbyists they have hired to advocate for those funds.
* Requires electronic filing of Senate campaign reports.
Strengthening Open Government in the Senate
* Eliminates secret holds.
* Requires conference reports to be available on the Internet for Senators and the public at least 48 hours prior to their being considered in the Senate.
* Prohibits “dead of night” changes to conference reports after signatures of conferees have been obtained.
* Provides a point of order against “out of scope matters” in a conference report that were in neither House or Senate versions of a bill. 60 votes are required to waive this point of order.
Thanks to Feingold’s office for that. He also penned a op-ed in the Washington Post urging tough ethics reform entitled “A chance to change the game”
This past Election Day, the American people sent a clear message to Washington: Clean up your act.
After a year in which too many scandals revealed the influence special interests wield over Washington, it’s no surprise that so many incumbents were defeated and that polls said “corruption” was the grievance cited most frequently by the voters.
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that this message was intended for only one party or politician. The votes hadn’t even been counted in November before we heard reports that corporations were already recruiting lobbyists with Democratic connections to carry their water in the next Congress.
That’s why it’s not enough to just change the players. We have to change the game.
Americans put their faith in Democrats because they want us to restore their faith in government — and that means more than window dressing when it comes to ethics reform.
Last year, I was hopeful that scandals would finally shame Congress into meaningful ethics legislation. But after the headlines faded, so did the enthusiasm for reform. In the end, I found myself voting against the final ethics bill because it was too weak and unresponsive to the obvious need for comprehensive reform.
This time around, we must do more.
We must stop any and all practices that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a public servant has become indebted to a lobbyist. That means a full ban on gifts and meals. It means no free travel or subsidized travel on private jets. And it means closing the revolving door to ensure that Capitol Hill service — whether as a member of Congress or as a staffer — isn’t all about lining up a high-paying lobbying job. We should no longer tolerate a House committee chairman shepherding the Medicare prescription drug bill through Congress at the same time he’s negotiating for a job as the pharmaceutical industry’s top lobbyist.
But real reform also means real enforcement. We need to finally take the politics and the partisanship out of ethics investigations. Whether or not the House ethics committee has been covering for its colleagues, the secrecy with which its members have operated has led people to question why legislators who are serving jail time were not caught and stopped by the committee in the first place. It’s led people to wonder why Congress cannot seem to police itself.
I have long proposed a nonpartisan, independent ethics commission that would act as the American people’s public watchdog over Congress. The commission would be staffed with former judges and former members of Congress from both parties, and it would allow any citizen to report possible ethics violations by lawmakers, staff members or lobbyists. Once a potential violation is reported, the commission would have the authority to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas, gather records, call witnesses, and provide a report to the Justice Department or the House and Senate ethics committees that — unlike current ethics committee reports — is available for all citizens to read.
This would improve the current process in two ways. First, it would take politics out of the fact-finding phase of ethics investigations. Second, it would exert greater public pressure on Congress to punish wrongdoing quickly and severely. Others have proposed similar good ideas on enforcement, and I am open to all options. We must restore the American people’s confidence in the ethics process by ensuring that political self-interest can no longer prevent politicians from enforcing ethics rules.
The truth is, we cannot change the way Washington works unless we first change the way Congress works. On Nov. 7, voters gave Democrats the chance to do this. But if we miss this opportunity to clean up our act and restore this country’s faith in government, the American people might not give us another one.
The writer is a Democratic senator from Illinois.
However people like Russ Feingold and Barack Obama don’t make up the entire Senate. Still the final package included the following provisions that Obama and Feingold advocated through their legislation that became part of the final package that passed, including:
* A full ban on gifts and meals from lobbyists including those paid by the firms that employ lobbyists;
* An end to subsidized travel on corporate jets;
* Full disclosure of who’s sponsoring earmarks and for what purpose;
* Additional restrictions to close the revolving door between public service and lobbying to ensure that public service isn’t all about lining up a high-paying lobbying job; and
* Requiring lobbyists to disclose the contributions that they “bundle” – that is, collect or arrange – for members of Congress, candidates, and party committees.
That isn’t anything to sneeze at by any means. Here’s what he had to say when the final bill passed.
“This historic reform is an enormous step toward restoring the people’s faith in government,” Obama said. “It will ban the practice of lobbyists currying favor with politicians by giving them free meals and gifts, or by providing subsidized flights on corporate jets, and will require greater disclosure of the huge campaign contributions they collect from their friends and clients. I am very proud to have helped lead this fight with Senator Feingold, and am proud of what the Senate, under Senator Reid’s leadership, has accomplished.”
Here is what Fred Wertheimer, head of the reform organization Democracy 21, said in a statement:
“We applaud Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Barack Obama (D-IL) for the outstanding national leadership they have provided in introducing ground-breaking ethics and lobbying reform legislation that set the standard for the Senate bill that passed, and by successfully offering key amendments on the Senate floor that strengthened the pending legislation.”
He has done a lot of other stuff for ethics reform in the Senate but if I wrote all of it down it would take up a entire day to read it. So I think that is enough for the time being. Now lets move onto his record of bringing increased transparency to government. More specifically his Google for Government bill.
One of the major bills that Obama has passed and one of the coolest bill’s that anyone has passed recently is the Google for Government bill (S. 2590). He introduced it with probably the most conservative member of Congress. Tom Coburn. Thanks to OMB Watch here is a description of what the law would do.
Key Elements of the Coburn-Obama-Carper-McCain Bill (S. 2590)
The bill requires the OMB to ensure that the public will have access free of charge to a searchable website providing information on federal financial assistance, including federal contracts, by Jan. 1, 2007. The website would allow the public to search for information about federal:
* Grants, including block grants, formula grants, and project grants;
* Cooperative Agreements;
* Loans, including direct loans, guaranteed loans, and insured loans;
* Direct payments for specified (e.g., financial aid) and unrestricted use (e.g., pensions, veterans benefits);
* Insurance; and
* Indirect financial assistance.
The website will not contain details about credit card transactions or minor purchases. Beginning Oct. 1, 2007, the bill requires the disclosure of subcontracts and subgrants. How the OMB will go about this is uncertain, since there is no established method for collecting such information.
Within 30 days of awarding federal funds, the following information is to be posted to the website:
* The name of the entity receiving the federal funds, excluding individuals receiving federal assistance and federal employees;
* The amount of federal funds the entity has received in each of the last 10 fiscal years;
* A list of each transaction with the entity receiving federal funds, including funding agency, program source, and a description of the purpose. The intent appears to link the funding to information found in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance;
* The location of the entity and primary location of performance, including the city, state, congressional district, and country. Since the recipient entity may be in a different location than where the service is performed, such information is important;
* A unique identifier for each recipient and parent entity. This unique number will be vital to illuminating our system of contracts, since company mergers and acquisitions are frequent. It will also help ensure the accuracy of searches. (Federal contractors and grantees are currently required to have a Dunn & Bradstreet (DUNS) number, the standard for business identification used by companies worldwide to link information about suppliers, customers and trading partners. So an entity’s DUNS number could easily be used to satisfy this requirement.)
* Any other relevant information determined by the OMB director.
The bill specifically indicates that a website with a link to the FPDS (https://www.fpds.gov/), FAADS (http://www.census.gov/govs/www/faads.html), or other web sites, such as Grants.gov, will not satisfy the requirements of this bill unless those sites allow for the public to search by:
* Name of entity, parent entity, or type of industry;
* Geography, including location of the entity and the primary location of the performance;
* Amounts and types of federal funding;
* Program sources and type of activity being performed;
* Time factors such as fiscal years or multiple fiscal years; and
* Other relevant information.
The bill requires the public be allowed to download data from searches that are conducted on the website. Although not specified, this would presumably allow the public to download data in formats compatible with common programs, such as spreadsheet applications, for further analysis.
The bill also requires that the website provide an opportunity for public input about the utility of the site and recommendations for improvements. OMB would report annually on its implementation of this effort both to Congress and on the new website. The report is to include data about usage and public feedback on the utility of the site, including recommendations for improvements.
It passed unanimously but it had to get over a secret hold. I’ll let Wikipedia explain more.
Some time after August 2, 2006 Senators Ted Stevens and Robert Byrd placed “secret holds” on S. 2590, which under Senate Rules prevents a vote on this act or its amendments. On August 17, 2006, Senator Coburn identified Senator Ted Stevens as “the only senator blocking [the Bill]” at a Town hall meeting in Arkansas, but this did not become widely known for nearly two weeks.
Prompted by political blogs, various individuals contacted their Senators to determine if they placed the “secret hold” on S. 2590. The effort was an unusual example of bipartisan collaboration on the internet with the right-leaning blogs Porkbusters and GOPProgress actively working with left-leaning TPMmuckraker. On August 30, 2006, after he had been identified as the only suspect by Porkbusters and one of two suspects by TPMmuckraker, a spokesman for Senator Stevens confirmed that he placed a hold. The following day, Senator Byrd (TPMmuckraker’s other suspect) also admitted to placing a hold stating that he had wanted to have more time to look at the legislation; he had lifted the hold by the time of the announcement. Senator Stevens subsequently lifted his hold also.
Here is what Obama had to say when the Senate passed the bill. He even gave a shout out to us bloggers!
“By helping to lift the veil of secrecy in Washington, this database will help make us better legislators, reporters better journalists, and voters more active citizens, It’s both unusual and encouraging to see interest groups and bloggers on the left and the right come together to achieve results. This powerful grassroots alliance shows that at the end of the day, Americans want to see Congress work together to get something done and not continue to engage in the partisan gridlock that so often brings Capitol Hill to a grinding halt.”
But the coolest part of it is that you can see what the bill did. Go to usaspending.gov and enjoy. It is truly a amazing website. You could spend hundreds of hours on it and never get bored. Seriously just check it out.
That was just his record of getting things done. Now I’m going to focus on the plan he released to change Washington. He gave a entire speech about it and has a entire section on his website dedicated to ethics so it was quite easy to find his bold plan. Here it is thanks to his site.
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.
If you want to read the entire 7 page plan then the Obama campaign has released the entire document for all to see. Just click here.
He also delivered a great speech about his plan. Go here if you want to see the video. And for those who prefer reading here is the speech.
Over one hundred years ago, around the turn of the last century, the Industrial Revolution was beginning to take hold of America, creating unimaginable wealth in sprawling metropolises all across the country.
As factories multiplied and profits grew, the winnings of the new economy became more and more concentrated in the hands of a few robber barons, railroad tycoons and oil magnates.
It was known as the Gilded Age, and it was made possible by a government that played along. From the politicians in Washington to the big city machines, a vast system of payoffs and patronage, scandal and corruption kept power in the hands of the few while the workers who streamed into the new factories found it harder and harder to earn a decent wage or work in a safe environment or get a day off once in awhile.
Eventually, leaders committed to reform began to speak out all across America, demanding a new kind of politics that would give government back to the people.
One was the young governor of the state of New York.
In just his first year, he had already begun to antagonize the state’s political machine by attacking its system of favors and corporate giveaways. He also signed a workers’ compensation bill, and fired a high-level official for taking money from the very industry he was supposed to be regulating.
None of this reform sat too well with New York’s powerful party boss, who finally plotted to get rid of the governor by making sure he was nominated for the Vice Presidency that year. What no one could have expected is that soon after the election, when President William McKinley was assassinated, the greatest fears of all the entrenched interests came true when that former governor became President of the United States.
His name, of course, was Teddy Roosevelt. And during his presidency, he went on to bust trusts, break up monopolies, and do his best to give the American people a shot at the dream once more.
Over a century later, America needs this kind of leadership more than ever. We need a President who sees government not as a tool to enrich well-connected friends and high-priced lobbyists, but as the defender of fairness and opportunity for every American. That’s what this country has always been about, and that’s the kind of President I intend to be.
We cannot settle for a second Gilded Age in America. And yet we find ourselves once more in the midst of a new economy where more wealth is in danger of falling into fewer hands; where the average CEO now earns more in one day than an average worker earns in an entire year; where Americans are struggling like never before to pay their medical bills, or their kids’ tuition, or high gas prices, all while the profits of the drug and insurance and oil industries have never been higher.
And once again, we are faced with a politics that makes all of this possible. In the last six years, our leaders have thrown open the doors of Congress and the White House to an army of Washington lobbyists who have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play – a game played on a field that’s no longer level, but rigged to always favor their own narrow agendas.
From Jack Abramoff to Tom Delay, from briberies to indictments, the scandals that have plagued Washington over the last few years have been too numerous to recall.
But their most troubling aspect goes far beyond the headlines that focus on the culprits and their crimes. It’s an entire culture in Washington – some of it legal, some of it not – that allows this to happen. Because what’s most outrageous is not the morally offensive conduct on behalf of these lobbyists and legislators, but the morally offensive laws and decisions that get made as a result.
The drug and insurance industries spent $1 billion in lobbying over the last decade. They got what they paid for when their friends in Congress broke the rules and twisted arms to push through a prescription drug bill that actually made it illegal for our own government to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for cheaper drug prices. Once it passed, those companies rewarded fifteen government officials and Congressmen who worked on the bill with cushy lobbying jobs that pay millions.
And yet, right now, there are parents and grandparents in this country who will walk into a drugstore and wonder how their Social Security check isgoing to cover a prescription that’s more expensive than it was a month ago; who will be forced to choose between their medicine and their groceries because they can no longer afford both.
This isn’t the government they deserve.
The oil companies were allowed to craft energy policy with Dick Cheney in secret while every other voice was silenced – including the NASA scientists who tried to warn us about the dangers of climate change. The industry got everything it wanted, and it even got one of its top lobbyists a job at the White House as an environmental watchdog – a job he used to fix reports that showed a link between carbon emissions and global warming.
Today, our planet is six years closer to a tipping point on climate change. Our country grows more dependent by the day on oil supplied by some of the world’s most dangerous and defiant regimes. And in a year where Exxon reported the biggest annual profit of any U.S. corporation in history, our families are heading into a summer where they could pay up to four dollars a gallon for gasoline in some places.
This isn’t the government we deserve.
At least eight top officials in our own Education Department have taken or had jobs in the student loan industry, including one who was fired for still owning $100,000 worth of stock in that industry. These are the same private lenders and banks who have been caught actually bribing colleges to steer business their way – the same ones who charge taxpayers $8 billion a year to provide student loans at inflated rates, instead of offering the loans directly and using the savings to help more kids. And we wonder why 200,000 students didn’t go to college in one recent year for the simple reason that they couldn’t afford it.
Billions of no-bid, no-strings-attached contracts have been handed out in New Orleans and Iraq and at Walter Reed Medical Center on the sole basis of who you know and the favors you’ve done, and yet we’re somehow surprised when the families in the 9th Ward are still living in trailers, or our soldiers don’t have the body armor they need, or our veterans are forced to come home to squalor and neglect.
This isn’t the government they deserve. This isn’t the America we believe in. And this is the kind of politics that will end when I am President.
Americans of every background and belief are hungry for a new kind of politics — a people’s politics that reconnects them with their government; one that offers not just a vote at the ballot box, but a voice in Washington and an assurance that the leaders we send there will hear it.
The people I’ve met across this country don’t just want reform for reform’s sake, they want reform that will help pay their doctor’s bills, or ensure that their tax dollars are spent wisely, or put us on the path to energy independence. They want real reform and they’re tired of the lobbyists standing in the way.
Look, we can’t begrudge businesses for trying to make a profit. That’s how the free market works. And every American — rich or poor — has the right to lobby their government. That’s perfectly fine. But it’s time we had a President who tells the drug companies and the oil companies and the insurance industry that while they get a seat at the table in Washington, they don’t get to buy every chair. Not anymore.
I know that in every campaign, politicians make promises about cleaning up Washington. And most times, you end up disappointed when it doesn’t happen. So it’s easy to become cynical – to believe that change isn’t possible; that the odds are too great; that this year is bound to be no different from the last.
But I also know what I’ve seen and what I’ve done. I know that for me, reform isn’t just the rhetoric of a campaign; it’s been a cause of my career.
When I arrived in Springfield a decade ago as a state Senator, people said it was too hard to take on the issue of money in politics. Illinois actually had a law that allowed politicians to pocket the money in their campaign accounts for personal use; that allowed any lobbyist or special interest to shower lawmakers with unlimited gifts.
It was obvious that as long as this went on, the people’s business would never come first. I knew it was going to be tough, and that I wasn’t going to make myself the most popular guy in town — or even in my own party.
But we had the people of Illinois on our side, and that there were folks on both sides of the aisle who were willing to listen, and so we were finally able to pass the first major ethics reform in twenty-five years.
When I arrived in Washington eight years later, the need for change was equally clear. Big money and lobbyists were clearly drowning out the aspirations of the American people. So when my party made me the point person on ethics, I was determined to pass the strongest reform possible. The first time around, Congress came up with a watered-down version. And I was proud to vote against it.
So we came back the second time, and in our bill, we banned gifts and meals and put an end to subsidized travel on corporate jets. We made sure that the American people could see all the pet projects that lawmakers were trying to pass before they were voted on.
And we did something more. Over the objections of powerful voices in both parties, we shined a bright light on how lobbyists help fill the campaign coffers of members of Congress. And we made sure those lobbyists will have to disclose who they’re raising campaign money from, and who in Congress they’re funneling it to.
As a candidate for President, I’ve tried to lead by example, turning down all contributions from federal lobbyists and the political action committees that the special interests use to pass out campaign money.
Now, it’s true that all of this represents a step forward when it comes to reconnecting people with their government. But it’s also true that a step forward isn’t good enough. Too often in Washington, special interests still exercise an effective veto on our progress, on issues from health care reform and drug costs to energy independence and global warming.
We saw how this happens during the debate over the energy bill this week. In the face of furious lobbying, Congress brushed aside incentives for the production of more renewable fuels in favor of more tax breaks for the oil and gas companies. And while we made some progress on fuel economy standards, we didn’t get the bold, long-lasting solution that America needs to break its dependency on foreign oil.
So there’s more cleaning up to do in Washington and Congress needs to start doing it so we can finally take action on the big challenges that demand solutions.
But we need to clean up both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. I believe that the responsibility for a people’s politics begins with the person who sits in the Oval Office. That is why on my very first day as President, I will launch the most sweeping ethics reform in history to make the White House the people’s house and send the Washington lobbyists back to K Street.
First, we will close the revolving door that has allowed people to use their Administration job as a stepping stone to further their lobbying careers.
This Administration tried to fill the top job at the Consumer Product Safety commission with a lobbyist from the same manufacturing industry it’s supposed to regulate. If Michael Baroody had taken that job, and he faced a complaint over an unsafe product, whose interest would he have served — the mother worried about the lead in her child’s toy, or the former boss who gave him a special $150,000 severance package on his way out the door?
When you’re on Dick Cheney’s energy task force and you know that a multimillion dollar job as an oil lobbyist could be waiting for you, whose interests are you going to serve – the oil companies that are asking for more tax breaks or the scientists and energy experts who say we need to invest in renewable fuels?
When I am President, I will make it absolutely clear that working in an Obama Administration is not about serving your former employer, your future employer, or your bank account – it’s about serving your country, and that’s what comes first. When you walk into my administration, you will not be able to work on regulations or contracts directly related to your former employer for two years. And when you leave, you will not be able to lobby the Administration throughout the remainder of my term in office.
A lot of people have told me this is pretty tough, but I refuse to accept the Washington logic that you cannot find thousands of talented, patriotic Americans willing to devote a few years to their country without the promise of a lucrative lobbying job after they’re done. I know we can find them, and in my administration, we will.
Second, I will end the abuse of no-bid contracts in my administration. In the last six years, the unprecedented use of these contracts has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and outsourced critical government services to friends and supporters who are more connected than they are qualified. That’s why, in the Senate, I worked with Republican Senator Tom Coburn to pass legislation that restricts the use of no-bid contracts when it comes to rebuilding the Gulf Coast.
But we need to do more. When our government gives Halliburton $7 billion in taxpayer dollars to put out Iraqi oil fires that don’t exist; when we hand over Katrina contracts to more of George Bush’s FEMA friends, it doesn’t just violate the American people’s trust, it takes away the tax dollars they’ve earned and the valuable services they need. It’s wrong, and when I am President, it will end.
Third, we will institute an absolute gift ban so that no registered lobbyist can curry favor and build relationships with members of my administration based on how much they can spend. When the American people have a concern about the high cost of health care or college tuition, they can’t afford to take a White House staffer out to a fancy dinner or an expensive sporting event, and lobbyists shouldn’t get to either.
Fourth, when it comes to hiring people in my administration, the litmus test we’ll apply will not be based on party or ideology, but qualification and experience. This has been the most politicized White House in history, and the American people have suffered as a result. Presidents obviously want to surround themselves with those who share their views and their beliefs, but the days of firing eight qualified U.S. attorneys because of their politics is over. The days of using the White House as another arm of the Republican National Committee are over. And the days of Michael Brown, Arabian Horse Judge, are over.
Finally, we will return government to the people by bringing government to the people — by making it open and transparent so that anyone can see that our business is the people’s business.
As Justice Louis Brandeis once said, sunlight is the greatest disinfectant. The more people know about how federal laws, rules and regulations are made, and who’s making them, the less likely it is that critical decisions will be hijacked by lobbyists and special interests.
I think the current administration knows that, too, which is why it’s been the most defiantly secretive government in modern times.
It’s time to change that.
When there is a bill that ends up on my desk as President, you will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it. When there are meetings between lobbyists and a government agency, we won’t be going to the Supreme Court to keep it secret like Dick Cheney and his energy task force, we’ll be putting them up on the Internet for every American to watch. And instead of allowing lobbyists to slip big corporate tax breaks into bills during the dead of night, we will make sure every single tax break and earmark is available to every American online. This builds on the “Google for Government” law I passed in Congress, which already allows you to see every contract, every grant, every dime of federal spending online.
It’s time to renew a people’s politics in this country – to ensure that the hopes and concerns of average Americans speak louder in Washington than the hallway whispers of high-priced lobbyists.
In 2004, over $2.1 billion was spent lobbying the federal government. That amounts to over $3.9 million per Member of Congress. $3.9 million so that oil companies can still run our energy policy and pharmaceutical companies can still inflate our drug prices and special interests can still waste our tax dollars.
The American people don’t have that kind of money to spend on Washington.
But they shouldn’t have to. In our democracy, the price of access and influence should be nothing more than your voice and your vote. That should be enough for health care reform. That should be enough for a real energy policy. That should be enough to ensure that our government is still the defender of fairness and opportunity for every American.
That’s the country we’re working towards right now. And that’s the country I’ll fight for every day as your President.
Early in his presidency, Teddy Roosevelt gave a famous speech before farmers and factory workers that laid out his vision of what government at its best should be. He said, “The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us, and therefore in public life, that man is the best representative…whose endeavor it is not to represent any special class or interest, but to represent all…by working for our common country.”
It’s time to get to work once more for our common country. It’s time we had a politics that reflected that commitment. And it’s time we had a President who can get it done. I look forward to being that President, and working with all of you to make this America happen. Thank you.
There you have it. I hope this wasn’t too long but it probably was. That’s what I call a impressive record of getting things done and a bold plan to do more.
And again I’m going to beg for money. It’s the last day of the quarter and we need to put our money were our mouth is. If you like open government then Donate now to help me and Barack Obama change the system.
Together we can change the world.
2 days ’till change.