Warren's latest anti-corruption plan would put strict new limits on lobbyist power
16 September 2019 20:02
New York (CNN)Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a sweeping new set of anti-corruption proposals Monday ahead of a rally in New York City, where she will speak a short walk from the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, an infamous 1911 disaster that led to the passage of revolutionary new workplace safety regulations.
Warren's push to stamp out public corruption by implementing stricter ethics laws is a central theme of her 2020 presidential campaign. In a new Medium post, the Massachusetts progressive promised to "close and padlock the revolving door between government and industry."
The measures unveiled Monday would ban federal lawmakers and their senior staff from serving on corporate boards and would require every new member of Congress to make public any potential financial conflicts before they take office. Corporate lobbyists would have to wait six years before becoming eligible for government jobs, and a range of other powerful officials -- from the president to federal judges and cabinet secretaries -- would be permanently disqualified from working as lobbyists after leaving office.
Warren, in a tweet on Sunday, said she would use the rally -- a rare example of her using prepared remarks to address supporters -- in New York City's Washington Square Park "to tell the story of how working women organized to change the course of history after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire."
Her speech is expected to tie the urgency and diversity of that movement to the one Warren, who touched on a similar theme in her official campaign kickoff earlier this year in Lawrence, Massachusetts, is hoping to stoke in response to what she describes as "the most corrupt (presidential) administration of our lifetimes."
Her campaign confirmed that Monday's speech would be the first time that Warren reads remarks off of a teleprompter at a campaign event since the Lawrence rally.
This latest round of proposals builds on an already extensive set of suggested overhauls to how the government regulates big corporations and itself. In this new rollout, Warren argues that without tightening anti-corruption laws and tying down big money interests, the policies favored by most progressives are doomed to defeat in Washington.
"Universal child care. Criminal justice reform. Affordable housing. Gun reform. Look closely, and you'll see -- on issue after issue, widely popular policies are stymied because giant corporations and billionaires who don't want to pay taxes or follow any rules use their money and influence to stand in the way of big, structural change," Warren writes.
To untie that knot, she would impose a slate of new rules designed to "end lobbying as we know it" by creating a broader definition of the kind of activities that would fall under the title. And in a specific reference to the work done by 2016 Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, Warren proposes banning private lobbying on behalf of foreign governments.
Warren's plan calls for limiting lobbyists' influence on domestic elections by forbidding them from making political contributions, acting as "bundlers" -- or helping to pool other people's donations -- and hosting fundraisers for candidates. The industry more generally would also be governed by new regulations on the amount of money it can spend to influence elected officials, and be forced to pay a tax on annual expenditures over $500,000.
"Allowing individuals who are paid to influence government officials on policy to also give gifts or funnel money to the political campaigns of those same officials sounds like legalized bribery," Warren writes.
On the government side, Warren wants to establish a federal "Office of the Public Advocate," which she says in her post would engage the public in a more substantial way when regulatory rules are being negotiated or become subject to change.
Warren also takes direct aim at President Donald Trump's sister, retired federal appellate Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, and calls for the closure of a loophole that "allows federal judges to escape investigations for misconduct by stepping down from their post."
Trump Barry's departure ended an investigation into whether she broke judicial conduct rules by committing tax fraud.
"Under my plan, investigations will remain open until their findings are made public and any penalties for misconduct are issued," Warren writes.
Additionally, Warren is pushing for new mechanisms to enforce ethics rules -- and punish violations -- by creating what she's calling the "US Office of Public Integrity," which would be empowered to investigate potential ethical breaches by government officials.
In her Medium post, she tied the need for more robust enforcement back to the Trump White House's habit of ignoring watchdog warnings and recommendations.
"When Secretary Ben Carson was warned about his son participating in fancy government events, he brushed it off," Warren writes. "And when an independent federal ethics watchdog determined that Kellyanne Conway should be fired for repeatedly violating federal law, the administration barely cared."
Warren would also seek to change the definition of what constitutes an "official act" when it comes to law enforcement dealings with potential or suspected pay-to-play schemes.
She calls the Supreme Court ruling in McDonnell v. United States, which overturned the conviction of Republican former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on corruption charges, "wrong-headed." The precedent set by the decision has made it more difficult for prosecutors to prove similar allegations in court.
Warren's plan would again seek to impose a more comprehensive standard for what could be considered bribery of elected officials -- and eliminate what she calls a "tractor-sized loophole" in the law.
Her new proposal, she writes, "ensures that corrupt politicians who accept bribes can be prosecuted. It also clarifies that a stream of benefits -- rather than a single act -- qualifies as an unlawful benefit paid in exchange for a bribe."
CNN's MJ Lee contributed to this report.