A reform agenda for 2007

Update: Can't believe I missed it: The Washington Post reported this morning that Pelosi will offer legislation that will "break the link between lobbyists and legislation" as the first order of business on the first day. What will they propose?

Money is pouring into races all over the country. Abramoff has his own "desk" at the FBI. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Land Deal) is the latest to be under federal investigation. Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Slap-Happy) threatens bodily harm to her Libertarian opponent (who has MS and is in a wheelchair) after he brought up her contributions from Tom DeLay in a televised debate. Then there's the Lieberman loophole: $387,000 in unaccounted for petty cash.

And we haven't even experienced the malfunctioning voting machines yet (at least in the general).

Democrats, should they take back Congress, will need a real plan to clean up Congress, and put voters first -- an agenda that is deep, broad, and systemic. No more bandaids, or narrow process reform masquerading as big ideas.

A reform agenda needs to be evaluated on the basis of how it helps regular people participate and how it enhances the ability of people to control their government. I don't think people would be (or should be) so concerned about the size and scope of government if they got quality government that addressed their concerns and was accountable.

If Democrats successfully advance an agenda that truly puts voters first, they'll be seen as the party of encouraging participation. We've seen example after example of GOP efforts to depress voter turnout. One astute observer told me recently, it's not hard to conclude that one party wants lots of people to vote, and one, well, doesn't. But, this is not about Democrats using this issue for partisan gain - that would make them just like the Republicans who refused to do any lobbying, ethics, or campaign finance reform because it would hurt them. They should do it because it is right. These issues have tremendous symbolic value, and the party that gets it benefits.

At any rate, here are five common sense ideas that would reposition the issue of electoral, campaign finance, ethics and lobbying reform outside of the DC wonk-o-sphere. It's not exhaustive.

1. Clean Elections-style public financing. It works in state after state. Just ask Governor Janet Napolitano. Candidates agree to an overall spending limit, qualify for a grant of public money by broad demonstrating public support with small contributions, and are freed from the money chase. If a participating candidate is targeted by outside money, he or she gets "fair fight" funds to respond. So far roughly 80 to 90 incumbents have pledged to support this in the next Congress, with support building. [Update]: An untold number of challengers will also enter Congress in 2007, perhaps making this new class a class of reform. We count approximately 15 challengers in hotly-contested races as supporters.

2. An independent ethics agency. No one - NO ONE - has faith in the way it is now. The only way to get to the bottom of the malfeasance is to have an agency outside of Congress's control investigate ethics abuses. No more foxes guarding the hen house. I have my doubts whether any member of Congress wants this, but that's what makes it a good thing, no?

3. Read the bill. How amazing would it be if every single bill had to be posted online for 72 hours before any vote could be held? Now I know that lots of legislation is not written in plain English. But think about the accountability component of having no way for lawmakers to sneak in last minute changes. Obviously there would have to be lots of thought about how to make it happen, but it's a pretty neat idea, no?

4. Same-day registration for voting. It's the law in a bunch of states like Maine and Minnesota - two of the highest turnout states in the country. When you move from state to state, you can walk in and get a new drivers' license and drive that very day. Why not the same for voting? Sure, the conservatives will claim there will be fraud. But when you register you sign under penalties of perjury. And frankly, I'm sick and tired of fraud being used as a way to discourage voting.

5. Fix the voting machine mess. People with more experience than I will know better how to suggest something here. But why, in this day and age, should we have to worry about whether our votes get counted? What were the women's suffrage and the civil rights movements for? We ought to honor those who fought for - and those who gave their lives fighting for - the right to vote by guaranteeing that all votes get counted.

There are lots of other good ideas - particularly on disclosure by the Sunlight Foundation - and this list is just a few that I wanted to throw out to you.

Last year, MoveOn launched a campaign calling on the House to "stop corruption first" before the House tackled its 2006 business. In retrospect it was a good idea, perhaps the right message for then, but too early.

This year, on the day after the election, we ought demand the same, but with a new message and a high bar: as the first act of the next Congress, pass serious reform that puts people back in charge of their government.

Tags: campaign finance reform, clean elections, Democrats, Ethics, lobbying, voting (all tags)

Comments

17 Comments

Re: A reform agenda for 2007

I might also add, "The Party of Reform" is simply a kick-ass narrative to set-up '08, to generate a really strong national trifecta.  We prove we can do it in any houses we control, and we'll be appealing to swing voters while firing up the base. If Bush stonewalls or vetoes, that's unfortunate, but only makes more likely a popular rejection of Republicans.

One thing I'd particularly like to see regarding public financing: teeth.  I was disussing it with a coworker yesterday and we realized that there simply is no strong disincentive to skipping out, no matter what the spending limits and available funds are.  But what, short of legally disqualifying a candidate, would work?

by bruorton 2006-10-25 06:09AM | 0 recs
Re: A reform agenda for 2007

Very good points. If Democrats become the "party of reform" it'll be based on achievements AND fresh ideas.

And, you're right about incentives to get candidates to participate (like approproiately set spending limits and "fair fight" funds to respond to paid media attacks) and ensuring that public financing has teeth in enforcement.

by David Donnelly 2006-10-25 06:36AM | 0 recs
Re: A reform agenda for 2007

And we haven't even experienced the malfunctioning voting machines yet (at least in the general).

Actually, we have if you count the electronic machines in Virginia listing Jim Webb as "James H. 'Jim'" which apparently can't be fixed before the election.

by fwiffo 2006-10-25 06:29AM | 0 recs
Re: A reform agenda for 2007

I saw that story after posting -- it's an outrage.

by David Donnelly 2006-10-25 06:37AM | 0 recs
Re: A reform agenda for 2007

on the whole it's a fine platform.  one question though.  what kind of ethics agency could possibly fall outside of Congress's control?  there's nothing in the federal government, that I'm aware of, which is outside of Congressional control.  assuming this agency has a budget, then according to the Constitution, its budget is controlled by Congress, so at the minimum you have that lever of control.

the only possible mechanism i could see for creating such an agency would be to make it answer to all 50 governors, or all 50 state legislatures, or something like that.  however, it would be an interesting constitutional exercise, to give that agency any kind of teeth.

by Shai Sachs 2006-10-25 06:31AM | 0 recs
What kind of agency?

No kind of agency, that's what.

Points 2 and 3 fall victim to the same problem: Constitutionally, Congress is responsible for its own rules and discipline.

What that means, effectively, is that while you could possibly appoint an outside agency to monitor and make recommendations on issues of ethics, all such recommendations would ultimately have to be subject to a vote in the chamber concerned. Which doesn't necessarily mean that it can't improve things somehow, but like most other delegations of Congressional authority, it's very likely that it'll end up a watered-down and politicized version of whatever was originally intended.

As for holding over the bills for 72 hours, that's not unlike what the House Rules already require. And as we all know, that's waivable by special rule, requiring just a majority vote.

by Kagro X 2006-10-25 08:36AM | 0 recs
Re: A reform agenda for 2007

It's like our own version of the 1994 Contract On America.  Great idea.

by Tom 2006-10-25 06:54AM | 0 recs
Re: A reform agenda for 2007

See Obey - Frank - Price reform package, introduced 2006-01-25.

by RonK Seattle 2006-10-25 07:55AM | 0 recs
Re: A reform agenda for 2007

excellent list. I would add:

*increase the size of the House of Representatives so that under-represented citizens (who just happen to be our base) receive the representation they deserve.

*DC statehood. I believe Tom Davis isn't being cynical in his compromise (one seat for DC, one for Utah) but it's not enough.

*establish national guidelines for redistricting, preferably along "non partisan" guidelines so more competitive districts materialize.

when we get all three branches, we need to expend some political capital on a hit:

*impeach Scalia. Never been done? So what, the last six years have been an object lesson in the art of the possible. I'm sure there's plenty of conflict of interest stuff if someone dug through his garbage.

by KevStar 2006-10-25 07:56AM | 0 recs
Re: A reform agenda for 2007

"If Democrats become the "party of reform" it'll be based on achievements AND fresh ideas [with teeth]."

YES...I'd like to see the netroots make this a primary focus of our efforts to influence the the Democratic party, which will hopefully soon control at least one house of Congress.  It will require a relentless and multi-pronged effort to  begin to really clean the cesspool that is Washington.  But the time seems ripe for something real, and the netroots can help keep the process honest, on track, and open.  It's time to address the fundamentals, while the wind is at our back.

by mitchipd 2006-10-25 08:04AM | 0 recs
Hoyer to channel Delay

Go to Washington Monthly and read good article on Hoyer as next majority leader.

Bottom line: Hoyer will not support political systemic reform because the political machine not only created him it is source of his power.  

Sad commentary on dems as change agents.  Expect more of the same.

by aiko 2006-10-25 08:08AM | 0 recs
who do you like?

You think Hoyer is bad...Murtha is basically a GOPer on all progressive issues save the war. I don't think opposing the war - even though what Murtha did was powerful and I respect it - is enough in his case to qualify him for leadership.  
And speaking of, check out this great new DNC ad:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Jq0j80UB _c

by jesusquintana 2006-10-25 08:46AM | 0 recs
Re: who do you like?

Apparently Rahm Emmanuel is also taking a look at Majority Leader.  Hoyer, Murtha, and Emmanuel...wow, the choices.

by Skaje 2006-10-25 09:29AM | 0 recs
Re: who do you like?

Oy.

by bruorton 2006-10-25 10:54AM | 0 recs
Re: who do you like?

Not Pelosi
Not Hoyer
Not Emmanuael

ummm that leaves Murtha.  I like him because he is different. He exudes authority.

I would like to see a floor fight in January for House Speaker and Majority Leader that includes all the newly elected Fighting Dems....

We need to throw out the old ones and bring in a leader or two who wants real reform in government and in government programs.

Not Pelosi
Not Hoyer
Not Emmanuael

by aiko 2006-10-25 10:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Hoyer to channel Delay

Hoyer has got at least one score to settle with Pelosi: his defeat for the Minority Whip job in 2001.

But beyond that, I suspect that there is quite a knot of Dem reps who would sympathize with his position on fundraising - and would be prepared to back up their sympathy with action if Pelosi presses ahead with a radical program on ethics as suggested in the main post.

(I wrote about the Monthly piece on Stoyer last week) - and on Blue Dogs feeling their oats over the Harman/Hastings imbroglio yesterday.)

The half-hearted and uncoordinated way the issue has been pressed by the Dems this year (talking tough and carrying a matchstick) might suggest the usual Dem lack of planning and follow-through. Or, alternatively, that Hoyerists persuaded the Lioness that they could cut up rough if she didn't soft-pedal.

Of course, nothing will pass even the House that would actually be effective - so there's no danger of Hoyer's K Street Project Reloaded being much harmed.

Even so, a reasonably radical ethics bill would be a sort of grumbling appendix to put (I'd say) more than a few Dem reps in a mood for valuing turf preservation over party spirit.

(If only 90 Dem reps have signed up as in favor of a Clean Elections scheme for Congressional elections - which I'd say should be a virtual motherhood and apple pie for Dems of all hues - that suggests a lot of fertile ground for Hoyer to hoe.)

[While I'm on - that AP piece on Pelosi is not without its groanmaking moments:

A grandmother five times over, Pelosi pops chocolates, shuns coffee and flashes her wit. Asked what offices should would occupy if in the Capitol if she becomes speaker, she laughed. "I'll have any suite I want."

She would, too.


Flashes her wit? So AP hacks do have senses of humor!]

by skeptic06 2006-10-25 09:14AM | 0 recs
Common Cause

Compares some of the ethics reform packages here:

http://www.commoncause.org/atf/cf/%7BFB3 C17E2-CDD1-4DF6-92BE-BD4429893665%7D/LOB BYING_ETHICS_COMPARISON.PDF

Seems that Pelosi's proposed one was the best of the lot, at the time that was published.

by Drew 2006-10-25 11:11AM | 0 recs

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