Both Candidates Say They Will Impose Tighter Restrictions on Lobbyists
We’ve finally had a breakthrough this election cycle.
For the first time, both major parties’ presidential candidates are calling for what the Campaign Legal Center believes is a central piece of democracy reform: tightening revolving door restrictions on members of Congress and updating the Lobby Disclosure Act that currently makes evading registration easy.
Having the Presidential nominees of both parties endorse these positions is a significant step forward for government reform, and should lead to action in the new Congress.
Calls for reform are coming from many sources. Recently, Paul A. Miller, president of the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics, voiced his support for legislation that would end the practice of congressmen asking for lobbyist’s money directly or for their assistance with fundraising.
Yesterday, Donald Trump detailed his ethics reform plan for Washington. Trump’s five-part plan, the first of its kind for a Republican, would:
1) Impose a five-year-ban on all executive branch officials lobbying the government for 5 years after they leave government;
2) Call on Congress to institute its own five-year ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and their staffs;
3) Expand the definition of lobbyist so we close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants and advisors when they truly serve as lobbyists;
4) Impose a lifetime ban on senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government; and
5) Call on Congress to pass campaign finance reform preventing foreign lobbyists from raising money in American elections.
Hillary Clinton has also supported similar policies. In August, she wrote in the Huffington Post about how she would address the “so-called revolving door between government and the private sector,” lending her support to Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s legislation seeking to close that revolving door.
These reform policies are crucial; as we continue to see well-paid lobbyists, often acting as significant bundlers of campaign contributions, gain access and influence for their well-heeled clients while average Americans feel shut out of the decision-making.
In 1959, shortly before President Eisenhower warned the nation about the dangers of influence from the “military-industrial complex,” there were only 400 registered lobbyists in Washington. Today, there are 12,000. Many among those ranks are former members of Congress who have used their time in public service to cash in and provide private interests the benefit of their connections on Capitol Hill. About 50 percent of Congressmen become lobbyists.
Lobbying is a first-amendment protected activity. However, these days lobbyists have become crucial players in how Congress functions – or doesn’t. It’s clear that both presidential candidates recognize the problems that come with a government that hears loud and clear the desires of those who seek a preference not obtainable in the free marketplace of ideas: a preferential tax break, a clause in an appropriations bill or a special status in a trade agreement.
In an extremely polarizing election cycle, Trump and Clinton’s agreement on such fundamental reform policies is a welcome break from the partisan bickering that has plagued our country for more than a year.
Before the debate tonight, we should take a moment to celebrate this victory for our democracy.