U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed a package of reforms to combat government corruption with new limits on lobbying, rules governing financial holdings and disclosures by officials, and transparency measures meant to better inform the public about how policies are made.
The Massachusetts Democrat said the changes would address what she called the "most obscene parts of how money now influences Washington," as she discussed her bill Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington.
Among her proposals is to have the Internal Revenue Service release the tax returns of presidential, vice presidential and congressional candidates, as well as those from businesses or non-profit groups the candidates operate. For those wanting to be president or vice president, those returns would date back eight years.
Currently those documents are private and the IRS is not allowed to release them to the public. Candidates can, and often do, voluntarily provide their returns. During the 2016 election campaign, then-Republican candidate Donald Trump did not release any of his tax returns. His Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton provided hers for 2007-2015.
Warren focused on the role lobbyists play in forming U.S. government actions with particular attention to the so-called "revolving door" that sees former elected officials and staff members going on to work for industries and using their knowledge and influence to try to shape rules and legislation.
She is calling for a lifetime ban on presidents, vice presidents, members of Congress, federal judges and Cabinet secretaries from working as lobbyists, and to prevent other government employees from lobbying for at least two years after leaving their jobs.
Warren also wants to require lobbyists to disclose each of the bills and policies they try to influence, as well as any meetings they hold with officials.
"Nobody would argue that companies have nothing to contribute to our democratic process. Of course they do. But today, lobbyists working for the wealthy and well-connected crowd the halls of government like it's happy hour every hour," she said. "And particularly in Congress, where staff budgets and in-house expertise continue to shrink, it's easier than ever for them to simply overwhelm our democracy so that the lobbyists or the people paying the lobbyists are the only ones whose stories get heard."
Warren discussed her proposals on the same day a federal jury convicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort of multiple charges of tax and bank fraud in connection with his work as a lobbyist for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
She proposed prohibiting lobbyists from accepting money to work on behalf of foreign individuals, companies or governments.
"The trial of Donald Trump's campaign manager has exposed how foreign governments hide their efforts to influence the American government through lobbying," she said. "We should ban Americans from getting paid to lobby for foreign governments, period. If foreign governments want to express their views, they can use their diplomats."
After citing a number of Republican lawmakers as examples in laying out her plan, Warren was asked if officials from her Democratic Party had engaged in corrupt practices as well. She said she had picked people "who are current right now," but pointed to former Securities and Exchange Commission head Mary Jo White, saying the Obama administration official was an example of the revolving door between Wall Street and its regulators.
"I would love it if this is not a partisan proposal. I think this is something that Republicans and Democrats across this country are worried about and I hope we can get support on both sides of the aisle," Warren said.
Among her other proposals are banning senior government officials from owning individual stock in companies, and requiring presidents and vice presidents to sell any "conflicted assets" or place them in a blind trust. She also wants to make federal appellate courts livestream audio of their proceedings, and to make case information available to the public for free.