Washington, D.C. – Democrats from across the country today unveiled their Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. In the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, were joined by Senator Barack Obama and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter and their Senate and House colleagues to shine a spotlight on the Republican “pay for play” politics that put special interests first at the expense of the priorities of the American people and signed a pledge to restore honest leadership and open government.
“There’s a price to pay for this corruption in Washington, and we can see it in the state of our union,” said Leader Reid. “From seniors who cannot afford their prescription drugs to soldiers sent to war without body armor and middle-class families living on a financial cliff, the cost of corruption is very real. Today, I challenge President Bush – the head of the Republican Party – to match our commitment to honest leadership. When leaders are accountable to people, not lobbyists, there is no limit to how far America can go.”
“An ethical cloud hangs over the Capitol,” said Leader Pelosi. “For years Democrats have called for an end to the Republican culture of corruption, but Republicans have resisted every effort because they benefit from allowing it to continue. This poison tree of corruption has borne the fruits of bad legislation – legislation that has come at great cost to the American people. Democrats are leading the effort to turn the most closed, corrupt Congress we have ever seen into the most open and honest Congress in history.”
“The corruption of Washington has done far more damage than sending politicians on golf junkets or showering them with gifts. It has shaken the faith of the American people in a government that looks out for their interests and upholds their values,” said Senator Obama. “The hired guns on K Street who’ve been allowed to help write our laws have gotten exactly what they paid for – massive tax breaks for the oil companies, giveaways to the drug industry, and no-bid contracts for Gulf Coast reconstruction. Meanwhile, hardworking Americans across the country who can’t afford their own lobbyist wonder when someone in Washington will help them send their kids to college or pay their medical bills or guarantee their pension. It’s time we answered their call.”
“Mr. Abramoff and his associates will be held up as the beginning and end of our Congressional crisis, but they are just the symptom of a larger problem,” said Congresswoman Slaughter. “The disease is here, with the party of power in Washington. Now is the time to realize that the Republican Members of Congress who put America up for sale have neither the ability, nor the credibility, to lead us in a new direction. But the Democratic Party can. And today, we are demanding the restoration of democracy itself to our government.”
Democrats today announced the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, a comprehensive government reform plan that will clean up and protect the government from the Republican culture of corruption and quid pro quo politics. The Act will reinvigorate Congressional ethics rules and institute broad-based lobbying reforms to ensure that the representatives of the people are operating in the people’s interest, not the special interests.
The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act offers the following reforms:
The Jack Abramoff Reform: Fix the gift and travel rules that allowed Republican lobbyists to buy influence in Congress.
The Ralph Reed Reform: Increase transparency and accountability in government: holding Members of Congress accountable to ethics rules and allowing the public to see exactly what their elected representatives are doing in Washington.
The Tony Rudy Reform: Close the revolving door between government and K Street lobbying firms by strengthening the ban on lobbying by former Members of Congress and senior government officials after they leave to work in the private sector.
The cost of Republican corruption is felt by American families every day as they try to heat their homes and send their children to college. While seniors struggle with a confusing and poorly implemented prescription drug program and middle-class families desperately try to pay higher bills with lower wages, special interests reap rewards and giveaways. Republicans created laws that provide billions to oil companies already making record profits and a multibillion dollar slush fund for the pharmaceutical industry, and allow friends like Halliburton to receive no-bid contracts. At events throughout America today, Democrats pledged to clean up Washington so that the people’s interests will come first.
“We are committed to immediate change to lead this country in a new direction, to put an end to Republican business as usual, and to make certain this nation’s leaders serve the people’s interests, not special interests,” pledged Democrats while unveiling principles for reform. “With honest leadership and open government, America’s leaders can once again focus on the urgent needs of the American people: real security overseas and at home, economic strength and educational excellence, affordable health care, energy independence, and retirement security.”
At an event in Columbus, Ohio, Democrats led a charge to fight against the Republican culture of corruption that is so pervasive in Ohio and to restore honest leadership. At the same time, Democratic Governors continued to work to reform ethics laws and restore honest leadership in state and local government. Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan asked the Legislature to support a series of reform measures to strengthen ethics laws and increase disclosure while Governor Joe Manchin of West Virginia enacted several amendments to his state’s Ethics Act to close the revolving door to ensure the people’s interests come first.
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THE HONEST LEADERSHIP AND OPEN GOVERNMENT ACT
Democrats offer an aggressive reform package to reverse Republican excesses and restore the public trust. Our program for change embodies the following provisions:
The Tony Rudy Reform: Close the Revolving Door. Close the revolving door between the Congress and lobbying firms by doubling (from one year to two) the cooling-off period during which lawmakers, senior Congressional staff, and Executive Branch officials are prohibited from lobbying their former offices. Eliminate floor privileges for former Members of Congress and officers of the Senate and House who return to lobby.
WHY: Republicans’ Revolving Door Lead to Criminal Activity. “Abramoff developed a close relationship with [DeLay] deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy. ‘For all intents and purposes, Tony worked for Jack,’ contends a former Abramoff associate, who tells TIME that Abramoff even bought Rudy a text-messaging pager so that they would never be out of touch…When Rudy left DeLay’s staff in 2000, he joined Abramoff at the lobbying firm of Greenberg Traurig. Rudy now works for Buckham at Alexander Strategy Group, another lobbying operation.” In addition, “Identifying [former Bob Ney Chief of Staff Neil] Volz only as ‘Staffer B,’ the Abramoff plea agreement suggests he may have lobbied Ney, members of his congressional staff and the House Administration Committee only one month after leaving a staff position on Ney’s committee – far short of the one-year cooling off period required by law.” [Time, 1/16/06; Copley News Service, 1/5/06]
The Ralph Reed Reform: Toughen Public Disclosure of Lobbyist Activity. Significantly expand the information lobbyists must disclose – including campaign contributions and client fees. Require them to file disclosure reports electronically, and increase the frequency of those filings. Require lobbyists to certify that they did not violate the rules, and make them subject to criminal penalties for false certifications.
WHY: Michael Scanlon and Ralph Reed Secretly Exploited Voters by Not Disclosing Clients. “Abramoff partner and former DeLay aide, Michael Scanlon, paid Ralph Reed $1.2 million to help oppose a new tribal casino that would compete with the casinos run by Abramoff’s tribal clients. Ralph Reed used the money and his Christian Coalition network to raise grassroots opposition to the competing casino without disclosing to his followers that their anti-gambling efforts were being funded by a competing gambling interest. [Washington Post, 8/30/04]
The Jack Abramoff Reform: Ban Lobbyist Gifts and Travel. Prohibit the receipt of gifts, including gifts of meals, entertainment and travel, from lobbyists.
WHY: Lobbyists’ Gifts Created Unethical Relationships Among Republican Congressmen. “First came the dinner invitations, then the tickets. Staffers in the office of former House Majority leader Tom DeLay could dine — usually, free of charge — at Signatures, the expense-account restaurant conveniently owned by lobbyist Jack Abramoff…the DeLay staffers began to think that Abramoff’s box at the arena was their box, and, in the cozy way of Washington, it might as well have been.” Abramoff also reportedly flew aides to Sen. Burns and Rep. DeLay to the 2001 Super Bowl and, during that trip, provided each with $500 worth of gambling chips on a SunCruz ship partly owned by Mr. Abramoff. [Newsweek, 1/16/06; Washington Post, 3/5/05; The Hill, 12/7/05]
The Grover Norquist Reform: Shut Down Pay-to-Play Schemes Like the “K Street Project.” End efforts like the “K Street Project,” which Republicans created to tell corporations and lobbying firms whom they should hire in exchange for political access.
WHY: Republicans Dictated Hiring at Corporations, Trade Associations and Lobbying Firms — and let Special Interests Dominate the Republican Agenda in Return. “DeLay, Santorum, and their associates organized a systematic campaign, closely monitored by Republicans on Capitol Hill and by Grover Norquist and the Republican National Committee, to put pressure on firms not just to hire Republicans but also to fire Democrats. With the election of Bush, this pressure became stronger…Several Democratic lobbyists have been pushed out of their jobs as a result; business associations who hire Democrats for prominent positions have been subject to retribution.” In addition, “while it’s not uncommon for lobbyists to have a hand in writing legislation on the Hill, the Bush administration has sometimes shifted the locus of executive policy making so far towards K Street that Bush’s own appointees are cut out of the process.” [New York Review of Books, 6/23/05; Washington Monthly, July/August 2003]
The Scully & Tauzin Reform: Disclosure of Outside Job Negotiations. Requires lawmakers to disclose when they are negotiating private sector jobs, and requires Executive Branch officials who are negotiating private sector jobs to receive approval from the independent Office of Government Ethics.
WHY: Jack Abramoff Offered Lobbying Jobs to Congressional Staff for Helping his Clients on Legislation While Members and Executive Officials Took Lobbying Jobs After Regulating Industry. “Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, who exercised jurisdiction over the industry as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, will become president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America on Jan. 3, when he retires from Congress…As a committee chairman in 2003, Tauzin helped to write the law to provide outpatient prescription coverage under Medicare.” Thomas Scully, the former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, held job negotiations with the same industries he regulated while also drafting the Medicare prescription drug bill. [Los Angeles Times, 12/16/04; GovExec, 4/9/04]
The Frist & Hastert Reform: Prohibit “Dead of Night” Special Interest Provisions. Require that all conference committee meetings be open to the public and that members of the conference committee have a public opportunity to vote on all amendments. Make copies of conference reports available to Members, and post them publicly on the Internet, 24 hours before consideration (unless waived by a supermajority vote).
WHY: Frist and Hastert Inserted a Special Interest Liability Provision in the Middle of the Night. According to Congressman David Obey, “The conference committee ended its work with the understanding, both verbal and in writing, that there would be no legislative liability protection language inserted in this bill…But after the conference was finished at 6 p.m., Senator Frist marched over to the House side of the Capitol about 4 hours later and insisted that over 40 pages of legislation, which I have in my hand, 40 pages of legislation that had never been seen by conferees, be attached to the bill. The Speaker joined him in that assistance so that, without a vote of the conferees, that legislation was unilaterally and arrogantly inserted into the bill after the conference was over in a blatantly abusive power play by two of the most powerful men in Congress…” [Congressional Record, 12/22/05]
The Halliburton Reform: Zero Tolerance for Contract Cheaters. Restore accountability and openness in federal contracting by subjecting major contract actions to public disclosure and aggressive competition; criminally prosecuting contractors who cheat taxpayers, with penalties including suspension and debarment; imposing stiff criminal and civil penalties for wartime fraud on government contracting; prohibiting contractors with conflicts of interest from conducting oversight or writing contract requirements they could bid on; mandating full disclosure of contract overcharges; creating tough penalties for improper no-bid contracts; and closing the revolving door between federal contract officials and private contractors.
WHY: No-Bid Contracts Bilked American Taxpayers. In March 2003, in what the top Army Corps contracting officer at the time has called the worst case of contracting abuse she ever witnessed, the Pentagon awarded Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root a no-bid contract to rebuild Iraqi oil fields and conduct “operation of facilities and distribution of products.” The initial deal was thought to be worth as much as $7 billion dollars. Halliburton is the largest private contractor in post-war Iraq, with potential deals totaling well over $11 billion. It continues to receive major federal contracts despite over $1.4 billion in disputed billing charges and numerous other abuses. Before becoming Vice President, Dick Cheney served as Halliburton’s Chairman. [Los Angeles Times, 5/7/03; Washington Post, 2/10/04; AP, 9/26/03]
The Brownie Reform: Prohibit Cronyism in Key Appointments. End rampant cronyism by requiring that any individual appointed to a position involving public safety possess proven credentials, and training or expertise in one or more areas relevant to the position.
WHY: Cronyism Led to Incompetence in Key Agencies like Michael Brown, the College Roommate of President Bush’s 2000 Campaign Manager, who was Appointed to Head FEMA and Presided over a legacy of neglect at the agency. Like David Safavian, who was appointed to head the government’s procurement office with no experience and was later arrested for lying to the FBI, Michael Brown was appointed to run FEMA without the requisite experience. According to Time, “this [second] Bush Administration had a plan from day one for remaking the bureaucracy, and has done so with greater success. As far back as the Florida recount, soon-to-be Vice President Dick Cheney was poring over organizational charts of the government with an eye toward stocking it with people sympathetic to the incoming Administration…Bush has gone further than most Presidents to put political stalwarts in some of the most important government jobs you’ve never heard of, and to give them genuine power over the bureaucracy. Some of the appointments are raising serious concerns in the agencies themselves and on Capitol Hill about the competence and independence of agencies that the country relies on to keep us safe, healthy and secure.” [Time Magazine, 10/3/05]