Warren’s Anti-Corruption Plan Could Put Obama Alums In The Hot Seat, Not Just Trump Officials
Democratic Presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), has gained notoriety on the campaign trail for using the common refrain, “I’ve got a plan for that.”
While new policy proposals related to health care, student debt forgiveness, and increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans tend to get top billing, there’s another plan in Warren’s platform that could have significant impact on how our current government system works. And it could create fallout for former administration officials who have returned to the private sector.
Warren unveiled her comprehensive plan to combat government corruption last summer, with a focus on tightening up lobbying rules and putting an end to the revolving door in Washington. Goals attempted by several politicians in the past. But this policy will have implications for former Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump administration officials alike, classifying them as corrupt.
“Too many public officials can easily leverage public service for personal gain. And the ability to walk around government with obvious and direct personal financial conflicts reduces public faith in honest officials. To fix this, we need a total rewrite of our ethics laws,” reads Warren’s proposal announcement.
To combat this issue, Warren proposes several new rules surrounding federal officials to ban them from influence after leaving their respective posts. Under Warren’s plan, it would be illegal for elected officials and top government appointees to become lobbyists. That not only covers presidents and vice presidents, but also members of Congress, federal judges and cabinet secretaries.
“Make it illegal for elected officials and top government appointees to become lobbyists — ever. My plan bans Presidents, Vice Presidents, Members of Congress, federal judges, and Cabinet Secretaries from ever becoming lobbyists — not for one or two years, but for life,” Warren wrote.
“End self-dealing in the White House by applying conflict of interest laws to the President and Vice President,” Warren wrote. “Under my plan, Presidents and Vice Presidents would be required to place their businesses into a blind trust to be sold off. No more payoffs. No more bribes from foreign governments. No more self-dealing,” she added.
Warren also calls for disclosure of tax returns by all federal candidates and officeholders “automatically,” divestiture from privately-owned assets by senior government officials, and other “shady practices” such as serving on corporate boards.
It would also bar companies from hiring former senior government officials who come from an agency the company had lobbied in the past two years—so a company with heavy exposure to farming would not be able to hire the former head of the Department of Agriculture, for example. Big companies, banks, and trade organizations would be unable to hire former agency officials for four years.
Warren’s plan would also expand the definition of “lobbyist” to include “everyone who is paid to influence lawmakers.”
“Restrict the ability of lobbyists to enter government jobs. Under my proposal, current lobbyists won’t be able to take government jobs for 2 years after lobbying, with limited exceptions for when the hiring is in the national interest. Corporate lobbyists will have to wait at least 6 years — no exceptions, and no waivers,” Warren wrote. This is necessary, she adds, as “[t]hese extensive cooling off periods will help ensure that if anyone with this background is hired into a government role, they are being selected because of their expertise, and not their connections.”
That would make the term much broader than today’s standard of anybody who spends 20 percent of their job lobbying. Warren’s plan would also bar “lobbyists” from making campaign contributions or fundraising for candidates.
“Because of our weak laws, only individuals who meet directly with politicians or spend more than 20% of their time lobbying are required to register as lobbyists. That means law firms, consultancies, and even self-described lobbying firms that hire individuals for the express purpose of influencing government may be able to avoid these registration requirements — allowing powerful interests to influence policy without any public accountability. This practice, endemic on both sides of the aisle, must end,” according to Warren.
In an interesting twist, a quick review of the post-administration positions obtained by former Obama Administration officials show that Warren’s plan would have a direct impact on several high-profile cabinet secretaries who now work in the environmental and advocacy space.
For instance, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson under Obama has since moved to the environmental non-profit and political advocacy sectors. Jackson is on the board of directors of Conservation International, a non-profit based in Arlington, Va., and also serves on the board of EMILY’s list, which is a political action committee (PAC) that aims to get pro-choice women candidates elected into office. She’s also on the board of directors for Apple, one of the largest companies in the world by market cap.
Her successor at EPA, Gina McCarthy, is now the president and CEO of the prominent environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). She also heads up the NRDC Action Fund, the organization’s affiliated but separate 501(c)4 counterpart, which takes upon political advocacy and lobbying efforts.
According to Open Secrets, NRDC has spent nearly $1 million on lobbying this election cycle, while the NRDC Action Fund spent more than $100,000 during the 2018 midterms. McCarthy herself donated personally to the Elizabeth Warren campaign, according to E&E News, which would be prohibited under the candidate’s proposed anti-corruption rules.
NRDC is one of the most influential groups out there when it comes to impacting environmental and energy policy. A report by the New York Times pointed out that the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan was largely based off a proposal written by the NRDC.
Similarly, former Obama Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is now the head of The Nature Conservancy, which spent $1.9 million on lobbying last year. Jewell is listed on the Open Secrets Revolving Door Report. The Nature Conservancy is also one of the top entities that lobbies Jewell’s former agency, something that would be banned under Warren’s plan. Jewell is also on the board of directors of Symetra, a Fortune 1000 financial services company.
The Democratic candidate’s proposal would also target individuals who have served within President Trump’s cabinet, like former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Jewell’s successor. He took a job with Nevada-based U.S. Gold Corp. less than four months after he left DOI. While not a “lobbying” job, Zinke’s “excellent relationship” with Bureau of Land Management and Interior would be advantageous, the company said.
Warren’s plan appears targeted solely at current and former Trump administration officials like Zinke moving forward. “Make no mistake about it: The Trump Administration is the most corrupt administration of our lifetimes,” Warren wrote.
Her anti-corruption platform is designed to target her political opponent; however it does not appear to account for the former officials who have already moved into the policy sphere. As the candidate known for having solutions, she probably doesn’t yet “have a plan for that.”