Why Hasn’t Biden Made Progress on Ethics Reform?

Joe Biden speaking at a podium with American flags behind him
President Joe Biden delivers remarks in front of the Cross Hall of the White House on Tuesday, August 31, 2021. Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

As a candidate, President Joe Biden promised comprehensive ethics reform. However, Campaign Legal Center’s (CLC) ongoing review of the status of Biden’s promises reveals that the president and Congress have not achieved the vast majority of those reforms.

As of August 2021, Biden has only fulfilled three of his 25 ethics promises. Unfortunately, he has made little progress in the months since. Although at least 17 of these proposals have been put into legislation, all but one has stalled in Congress.

Important reforms such as keeping foreign money out of our elections, reducing the influence of secret spending, otherwise known as “dark money,” and over a dozen others languished in the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate with little to no movement since Biden’s inauguration.  

Notably, the For the People Act, which passed the House before stalling in the Senate, contained provisions that would make 10 of these policies law.  

One reform has seen positive movement in both the House and Senate but has not yet passed either chamber. The IG Independence and Empowerment Act, H.R. 2662, passed the House earlier this year and was reported out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in November.

But inspector general reform alone is not enough. The past five years have laid bare how imperative it is to have enforceable ethics laws. Within the last year alone, CLC and others have discovered 46 members of Congress who have likely violated the STOCK Act – a law created to stop insider trading and make member’s conflicts of interest more transparent.  

This is something Biden promised to address, however, there’s been no discernable movement on any legislation to prevent members of Congress from being influenced by their personal financial holdings. 

More simply, Biden could implement at least two of his proposed policies without Congress and has indicated he would. Nothing is stopping him from immediately increasing transparency in the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision-making or empowering agency watchdogs to combat unethical behavior through an executive order.

Voters deserve to know that their government is acting ethically and on the public’s behalf, not acting against the public’s best interest.

President Biden’s ethics reforms would do exactly that – which is why he must continue pushing and advocating for all his ethics priorities before Congress, even if that includes reforms that are stalled in the Senate or implementing reforms through executive orders. 


Danielle is a Legal Counsel on CLC's Ethics team.
Biden's Progress on His Ethics Promises