I often say that the biggest deficit this country faces is a deficit of trust in our national leaders. Corruption, or even just the appearance of corruption, strike at the heart of our nation’s ideals. For too long, our government has been in thrall to corporate interests who constantly seek to expand and entrench their power. From gerrymandering to the revolving door of officials becoming lobbyists (and vice versa), Americans have been given ample reason to believe that the government primarily serves the interests of the wealthy and corporations. As President, I will work to earn the trust of the American people and restore faith in good government.
In the United States today, corporations and wealthy individuals have an inordinate amount of power to shape the political landscape to meet their needs. With the rise of corporate lobbyists and political action committees (PACs), the situation was already bad. But then the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision made it even worse. Now we find ourselves in a situation in which companies and wealthy people can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections — putting everyone else at a significant disadvantage. What this system amounts to, all too often, is essentially legalized corruption. It’s “pay to play,” plain and simple. As President, I will work to take power from the lobbyists and the corporations and put it back in the hands of those to whom it should belong by right: the people.
As a member of Congress, I saw firsthand how the “revolving door” works. After serving in Congress, or working for a government agency, officials retire from their public service jobs and take a much more lucrative position in the private sector. Once in their new position, they use their personal connections — in addition to their experience and knowledge of the innerworkings of government — to game the system in service to their new employer. This practice is not limited to members of either party. Indeed, I saw Democratic colleagues do it as often as Republicans. After I retired from Congress I was offered jobs and board positions in the corporate world that would have paid me much more than the university teaching positions I instead opted to take. If I had wanted to “cash in,” as so many do, it would have been all too easy. That is why I support legislation to close this revolving door and prevent members of Congress and executive branch officials from becoming lobbyists for five years (it is currently one or two years in most cases). I also support expanding existing laws on “switching sides,” to prevent officials from working in a non-lobbying capacity on behalf of interested parties on issues which the official had formerly worked personally and substantially for the government.
Part of the problem here is that our existing lobbying laws are rarely enforced. For instance, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) exists to force Americans to register when they wish to perform lobbying work in the United States on behalf of a foreign government. The law has existed since 1938 when it was created to counter pro-Nazi propaganda. There has recently been some stepped-up enforcement of this law — including high-profile cases revealed during the course of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — but between 1966 and 2015 there were just seven prosecutions of FARA violations. Surely there were more than seven violations of the law.
As President, I will order the creation of a new Office of Public and Corporate Corruption in the Justice Department to focus on enforcement of lobbying laws — including FARA, and most importantly the landmark Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946 and the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 — and take a proactive approach to enforcing other laws related to public corruption, including the Federal Bribery Statute, the Hobbs Act, and federal laws against honest services mail and wire fraud, false statements, embezzlement, and racketeering.
I will also elevate the position of Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to a cabinet-level position to underscore the importance of this agency’s work and shine a bright spotlight on misdeeds in the powerful financial services industry and malfeasance related to government regulation of high finance. While I recognize the importance of the CFPB as an independent watchdog, there is certainly precedent for high-ranking officials who must retain a certain level of independence also serving as members of the President’s cabinet, the most obvious being the Attorney General.
Finally, I will take the war against corruption overseas — because in our globalized world, the corruption power of money knows no borders — by initiating international treaty negotiations toward developing a new global treaty on corporate accountability and transparency. Multinational corporations use the patchwork of laws around the world to hide from scrutiny and keep their deleterious business practices a secret. These practices could include financial crimes, tax evasion, environmental crimes, labor rights violations, human rights abuses, and more. And when companies with headquarters or histories in the United States behave badly around the world, it gives our country a bad name and weakens us on the global stage. But there’s no way we can tackle this problem alone. As with other issues of global importance and global scale, like climate change and nuclear non-proliferation, we must tap into America’s greatest strength — our power to convene — and bring the world together to take on the corporations and the oligarchs and fight for the people. Corruption is an injustice that must be fought wherever it is found.
The 2016 election highlighted many weaknesses in our electoral system. First and foremost, foreign interference in the presidential election — in particular by the Russian state — was extensive. According to Special Counsel Mueller’s report, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” In addition to the well-known social media disinformation campaign, which included attempts to sow social and racial discord in America, and the hacking and release of information from private email accounts of campaign and party officials, we now know that Russian hackers infiltrated the voter databases and software systems in at least 39 states.
The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded last year, on a bipartisan basis, that our response to Russian hacking was “inadequate.” They also found that Russian infiltrations into election systems in various states “could have altered or deleted voter registration data.” That means it is possible that the Russian government removed duly registered voters from election rolls, which could have had an impact on the results. While there is no proof that this was done, we now know that Russia has the capability. It also points to the critical importance of passing a law to require a paper trail for all voting systems across the country. With the rise of computerized voting booths, we are now vulnerable to hacking attacks that could alter the results of elections. We must urgently address these threats and see them for what they are: clear and present dangers to the very foundations of our democracy, our free and fair elections.
But securing our democracy is not limited to defending against threats from abroad. We must also defend against threats here at home, especially voter suppression, both of the intentional and unintentional kind. I strongly support the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019, which would go a long way toward undoing the damage caused by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decisions in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down key provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. In particular, the Shelby County case allowed states and municipalities with a history of racist voter suppression to change election laws and processes without the approval of the federal government (which had formerly been mandated by the Voting Rights Act). I also support an update to the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to ban discriminatory voter identification laws which we know disproportionately impact poor people and communities of color. The spread of these laws in recent years is part of a concerted and cynical Republican effort to disenfranchise people they expect will support their political opponents. We must do everything we can to fight voter suppression.
In the “unintentional” voter suppression category I include the 60% of all polling places in the United States that have one or more impediments to accessibility for people with disabilities — though all such impediments are illegal under federal law. I favor providing federal grants to ensure that every American is able to access polling places and exercise their right to vote. In addition, I believe that our system has long been structured in a way that reduces voter turnout and as President I will work to make our system more representative of our population by lowering barriers to participation. For instance, we should institute automatic voter registration of all citizens at the age of 18 or upon their naturalization as new citizens, because it is wrong to make people jump through hoops simply to participate in our democracy. And, because our current Tuesday election day discriminates against working people, especially those who work long hours, I firmly believe we should make Election Day a national holiday.