Democratic presidential primary candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday unveiled a wide-ranging plan to combat corruption in U.S. politics with "big, structural change to fundamentally transform our government."
The End Washington Corruption plan builds on legislation that the Massachusetts Democrat introduced last August, months before she announced her presidential campaign. Warren released the plan ahead of her Monday night speech in New York City, near the site of the tragic 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
"Today, I'm announcing a comprehensive set of far-reaching and aggressive proposals to root out corruption in Washington," Warren wrote on Medium Monday. "It's the most sweeping set of anti-corruption reforms since Watergate. The goal of these measures is straightforward: to take power away from the wealthy and the well-connected in Washington and put it back where it belongs—in the hands of the people."
The Trump administration is the most corrupt of our lifetimes. Trump is a walking conflict of interest, and many of his cabinet secretaries are no better. His Supreme Court Justices were hand-picked by right-wing extremist groups, and some of his donors are now ambassadors.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) September 16, 2019
Warren directly targeted President Donald Trump with her Medium post. "Make no mistake about it: The Trump administration is the most corrupt administration of our lifetimes," she wrote, highlighting tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, Supreme Court justices "hand-picked by right-wing extremist groups," and key cabinet and ambassador posts the president has filled with former lobbyists and major donors.
"But these problems did not start with Donald Trump. They are much bigger than him," Warren noted, emphasizing the need for broad, transformative change. "My plan lays out nearly a hundred ways that we can change our government to fix this problem—from improving public integrity rules for federal officials in every branch of government to ending lobbying as we know it, fixing the criminal laws to hold corrupt politicians to account, and ensuring our federal agencies and courts are free from corrupting influences."
The plan has six broad goals under which Warren organized her proposals. The first goal is restoring public integrity—which, she argued, requires "rooting out financial conflicts of interest in Washington." To achieve this, Warren would:
- End self-dealing in the White House by applying conflict of interest laws to the president and vice president;
- Disclose tax returns of federal candidates and officeholders to the public automatically;
- Force senior government officials to divest from privately-owned assets that could present conflicts of interest;
- Completely ban the practice of government officials trading individual stocks while in office;
- Shut down a raft of additional shady practices that provide opportunities for government officials to serve their own financial interests; and
- Immediately end the possibility of trading on access to insider political information.
As part of Warren's effort to address the public's lack of confidence in federal officials and institutions, she wants to "close and padlock the revolving door between government and industry." Her proposals to achieve this are:
- Ban "golden parachutes" that provide corporate bonuses to executives for serving in the federal government;
- Restrict the ability of lobbyists to enter government jobs;
- Make it illegal for elected officials and top government appointees to become lobbyists—ever; and
- Restrict the ability of companies to buy up former federal officials to rig the game for themselves.
The White House hopeful would also work to curb the influence of corporations and powerful special interests on the U.S. justice system. Specifically, Warren calls for strengthening ethics requirements for federal judges and ensuring that Supreme Court justices are held to the same standard as judges in lower courts. She would also mandate the public dissemination of all federal judges' financial reports, recusal decisions, and speeches and "close the loophole that allows federal judges to escape investigations for misconduct by stepping down from their post."
This is an important, if overlooked problem that @ewarren is highlighting: judges accused of wrongdoing should not be able to avoid reprimand and retain their taxpayer funded pensions by simply retiring. https://t.co/0blupo9RLa
— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) September 16, 2019
Ending corruption in Washington, Warren argued on Medium, requires "ending lobbying as we know it." Her second broad goal features six key proposals:
- Expand the definition of lobbyists to include everyone who is paid to influence lawmakers;
- Ban lobbying for foreign entities—period;
- Impose strict rules on all lobbyists, including preventing them from donating to or fundraising for political candidates;
- Dramatically expand the kinds of information lobbyists are required to disclose;
- Impose a tax on excessive lobbying—and use this revenue to give Congress and agencies the tools to fight back against the corporate influence machine; and
- Strengthen congressional independence from lobbyists.
As her third goal, Warren aims to end corporate capture of federal agencies, pointing out that "because of the revolving door, the avalanche of lobbyists, and the weakness of our agency tools to fight back, agencies often find their agendas hijacked by the very industries they are supposed to regulate." Her related proposals are:
- Stop powerful actors from peddling fake research—often funded by undisclosed donors—and hold corporations accountable for lying to regulators;
- End the practice of inviting corporate bigwigs to negotiate rules their companies would have to follow and put a stop to the stall tactics they use to kill public interest rules; and
- Give the public the tools to fight back against corporations who seek to co-opt this process for their benefit.
"I'll crack down on corporations who manipulate agencies by submitting sham research—like the climate denial studies bought and paid for by oil and gas magnates like the Koch Brothers," Warren vowed. Her acknowledgment of corporate influence on climate policies caught the attention of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, which took to Twitter Monday to urge voters to read the candidate's full anti-corruption plan:
— Sunrise Movement (@sunrisemvmt) September 16, 2019
To ensure "access to justice for all," Warren's fourth goal, she would ban forced arbitration clauses and mandatory class action waivers so that workers and consumers can fully utilize the legal system to take on corporations that have wronged them. Noting two recent Supreme Court decisions that have made it harder to file lawsuits, she also called for restoring fair pleading standards.
Warren's proposed justice reforms also relate to her fifth goal: holding bad actors accountable. Specifically, she would:
- Establish a new U.S. Office of Public Integrity and strengthen ethics enforcement;
- Expand and strengthen the independent Office of Congressional Ethics;
- Expand the definition of "official act" in bribery statutes to criminalize the sale of government access; and
- Clarify the definition of "in-kind contributions" to ensure that no future candidate can receive political assistance from foreign countries or solicit large hush money payments without facing legal consequences.
The presidential candidate's final goal is to "shine a light on government activity" in order to deter corruption. Warren would bar courts from sealing records related to major public health and safety issues, impose new transparency standards for the federal judiciary, and make it easier to access judicial records. She also calls for strengthening open records laws "to close loopholes and exemptions that hide corporate influence, and increase transparency in Congress, federal agencies, and nonprofits that aim to influence policy."
Warren on Monday reiterated her support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates to corporate money in politics.
"But even if we solve our campaign finance problems," she added, "comprehensive anti-corruption reforms targeted at Washington itself are necessary to finally end the stranglehold that the wealthy and the well-connected have over our government's decision-making processes."