Open Forum

By
February 2, 2006

Members of Congress and U.S. government are constantly engaging in fundraising practices which average Americans consider to be unethical. In the current system, lobbyists are corrupting the U.S. government. This is a danger to our republic and must be changed.

Average voters are appalled by, and adamantly opposed to, the current system, which amounts to a "Coin Operated Congress." Like it or not, Senator, the people of California see YOU as part of the problem. Right now you have a tremendous opportunity to be a conspicuous part of the solution – if you can find the courage to do the right thing and resist the dark force of money politics.

Congress should take the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as its guide. For nearly 30 years the United States has been sanctimonious about bribery of foreign government officials, but Congress has steadfastly refused to apply the same principles to our own government. Congress needs to pass a very strict "U.S. Domestic Corrupt Practices Act." This must be a tough, unambiguous law with large, sharp teeth.

The U.S. Domestic Corrupt Practices Act needs to address the 8 areas where the American people see the most corrupting influence:

1. It should be a felony for anyone to give anything of value to a member of the U.S. congress or the executive branch or any member of their staff or family. This means NO lobbiest paid entertainment, NO meals, NO travel expenses – and NO loopholes. We also believe the rule should be NO gifts. Even though the "under $20 baseball cap or coffee mug" seem trivial, it leaves the door to corruption open. Members of Congress and their staff can afford to buy their own baseball caps, coffee mugs, and meals. Leaving any loophole for "fact finding travel" paid by any person or organization, nonprofit or otherwise, is unwarranted. Members of Congress and the executive branch can pay for their own travel, or if travel is important to fully understand an issue a member is studying, the government should pay the travel bills. If a family member accompanies a congressperson, it must be assumed that it is a personal trip and all the family member's expenses must be paid by the congressperson.

2. It should be a felony for any lobbyist to give or aid in the giving of a campaign contribution for any office holder or candidate for office in the U.S. Federal government.

3. Completely bar every member of Congress, senior staff member or senior member of the executive branch from working as a lobbyist for at least THREE (3) years after the date they leave office. The frequent spectacle of senior members of the government turning around and becoming lobbyists is repugnant to the American people. Two years is not long enough – enact a law which will have a chance of ending this odious practice once and for all.

4. Take away all retirement money, medical coverage, and ongoing perks of any type from any current or former member of Congress, senior staff member, or senior member of the executive branch convicted of violating the "U.S. Domestic Corrupt Practice Act."

5. Transparency is a key to preventing Corruption. Lobbyists must be required to keep complete records of all contacts: in person, by phone or in writing including fax, e-mail, etc., with any member or employee of Congress or the executive branch, and publish those records WEEKLY on an internet site set up by the government. This site should be paid for by a fee on all registered lobbyists. Failure to promptly publish such records should be penalized by immediate loss of registration as a lobbyist. Repeated failure should be a felony.

6. Transparancy must apply to U.S. Government Officials as well. Every member of congress, senior staff member or senior member of the executive branch must disclose in writing every contact with any lobbyist – in person, by phone or in writing including fax, email, etc., and publish those records WEEKLY on an internet site set up by the government. The actual communications should be available to the public. The necessary record keeping and publication system can be paid for by a fee on all lobbyists. If both the lobbyists and the lobbied are required to keep complete records and make them public, there is a better chance the people will learn what is going on.

7. Former members of Congress should be barred from access to the congressional gym and from the floor of Congress. Former members should have no right of access to a government facility set up for the convenience of active members of congress. Former members can can pay for their own gym – just like any other citizen. And it seems obvious former members should have no more right to access to the floor of Congress than any other citizen.

8. End the undemocratic practice of "earmarking." The people expect Congress to be more than a back scratching club, where members are sneaking around hiding legislation from the public. All these nasty little legislative gifts of public money to big donors and lobbyists need to be out in the light of public scrutiny. Do not "limit" this vile practice, end it once and for all.

In addition to fighting for a tough crackdown on corrupt behavior, Your constituents want you to personally take a public pledge to impose strict rules on your self and your staff members, and to actively challenge your colleagues in congress to take the same clean government pledge. Most Americans will feel good about voting for a person who takes such a pledge, and many will have a hard time supporting a politician who refuses to do so.

Sincerely,

Stephen F. Clayton


Open Forum was published on February 2, 2006 in Opinions

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