August 21 2018
Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday unveiled a sweeping set of reforms that would radically restrict and publicly expose corporate lobbying in Washington.
In a major speech at the National Press Club, she laid out the parameters of what she is calling the “Anti-Corruption Act.” If just half of it were implemented, it could transform the political economy of Washington and fundamentally upend the lawmaking process as it currently exists.
Warren began her speech by noting that only 18 percent of the American people now say that they have trust in the government. “This is the kind of crisis that leads people to turn away from democracy,” she said. “The kind of crisis that creates fertile ground for cynicism and discouragement. The kind of crisis that gives rise to authoritarians.”
In broad strokes, Warren is attempting to take the profit motive out of public service by making it extremely difficult for former lawmakers and government officials to cash in on their government experience, while simultaneously giving Congress and federal agencies the resources needed to effectively govern without the motivated assistance of K Street.
In 1995, when Newt Gingrich and the “Republican Revolution” took over Congress, he systematically dismantled the intellectual infrastructure of the institution, defunding major functions of Congress and slashing budgets for staff. The public-facing explanation was to cut back on wasteful spending, but the true intent was to effectively privatize lawmaking, forcing Congress to outsource much of the work of crafting legislation to K Street. What followed was an explosion in the lobbying industry in Washington.
Warren proposes much stricter restrictions on the revolving door between public service and lobbying, but, more fundamentally, flat-out bans on any lobbying on behalf of foreign governments, an industry that has come under increased scrutiny as a result of the trial of Paul Manafort, who made his fortune carrying water for foreign governments in Washington, often whose interests ran against those of the U.S.
Under current law, foreign agents must register and disclose any contacts with government officials — they would now be banned and under Warren’s law, all lobbyists would have to do what foreign agents do now.
Her bill would also mandate that the IRS release tax returns for candidates, and that the president and vice president be subject to conflict-of-interest laws. She would create a new Office of Public Integrity to enforce the new ethics laws.
The new proposal comes on the heels of the Accountable Capitalism Act, and is a window into what she sees as one of the main functions of government, to be a check against runaway capitalism but in significant ways to strengthen, rather than challenge, the free market. “I am a capitalist to my bones,” Warren said recently, in response to the conversation around democratic socialism.
Where some on the left view markets with deep skepticism, Warren’s ideology sees concentrations of corporate power as a great threat, but views functioning markets as a check against that consolidated power. For markets to function properly, she has long argued, robust government regulation and serious enforcement of laws must be in place, otherwise fraudsters and monopolists ripoff both consumers and investors. That ideology led to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and undergirds her more recent proposals.