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Warren’s Legislation Would Peel Away Layers of Corruption

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

WASHINGTON - Note: Today, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled a legislative package of reforms endorsed by 45 groups (PDF) to combat corruption.

There is a danger that the spotlight on President Donald Trump’s outrageous transgressions of ethics standards and unprecedented, global conflicts of interest will blind us to the more pervasive corporate corruption of our government. Corporate corruption has hit its nadir with the Trump administration, but it is a historical, structural and bipartisan problem. That is why Public Citizen is so enthused to endorse Warren’s breakthrough Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, sweeping legislation to root out corporate corruption and return our government to We the People.

Despite partisan gridlock in Washington and an increasing cultural polarization, Americans actually agree by overwhelming numbers on an aggressive policy agenda to make our country fairer, safer, healthier, more sustainable and more equal. Overwhelming majorities, up to 80 percent and above, want to see a steep rise in the minimum wage, Social Security not just protected but expanded, health care for all, pharmaceutical price gouging ended, rogue corporations held accountable and Wall Street banks broken up. Americans favor aggressive measures to protect food safety, strong environmental measures even when pitted (falsely) against jobs, higher corporate taxes and closing corporate tax loopholes. Yet our government is unresponsive to those demands – because, simply, the system is rigged.

No single reform, nor even any single set of reforms, can solve this problem. But Warren’s bill would peel away layers of corruption.

Too frequently – indeed, characteristically in the Trump administration – revolving door lobbyists and corporate representatives gain control of regulatory agencies, putting them in charge of setting and enforcing the rules for the very industries they previously represented and, typically, will represent again after leaving government. The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act slams shut the revolving door, significantly through the creation of a new legal category of “corporate lobbyist,” for whom revolving door rules are airtight.

Too frequently, even regulatory agencies that seek to fulfill their public interest mission are hamstrung by a rulemaking system that introduces endless delay, puts undue weight on the self-interested claims by regulated business and provides business an opportunity to bottleneck or weaken regulations at the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a small and obscure but super-powerful agency within the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act addresses all of these corporate chokepoints on public interest rulemaking – and, crucially, it creates a new Office of the Public Advocate to make sure the public, not just corporate interests, are meaningfully involved in the development of new rules.

Too frequently, a double standard in place leads to harsh punishment for street criminals – but slap-on-the-wrist penalties for corporate wrongdoers. Government law enforcers – themselves often subject to revolving-door problems – commonly go out of their way to give companies the benefit of the doubt – often forgiving lawbreaking simply for a promise not to break the law again. As one reference point, U.S. Department of Justice penalties on corporations have plummeted 90 percent under the Trump administration. The Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act helps make sure the corporate crooks can’t get away with it, by empowering citizens to enforce the laws against corporate wrongdoers, if government agents decline.

There is more, much more, in this excellent anti-corruption measure. If adopted and coupled with comprehensive campaign finance reform, the American people would regain faith in their government, which would again start working for the people, not the rich and powerful. That’s what’s at stake, and it’s why this anti-corruption legislation is so desperately needed.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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