One issue that hasn't gotten close to enough play in the presidential race is government reform.
Workable solutions to nearly every major challenge facing our country (health care, energy, transportation, education, the gap between the rich and the poor, and foreign policy) have been blocked in large part due to problems with the way Washington works.
Some problems, including our disgustingly complex and loophole-ridden tax code, our expenditures on unnecessary weaponry, the effects of Hurricane Katrina and the astoundingly large number of members of Congress in recent years who've been investigated, indicted, convicted or resigned for corruption and/or abuse of office, have the way Washington works as their root cause.
And yet most candidates have been saying very little about this. Some are even ... err ... naive enough to think that they can accomplish real, transformative change without tackling this issue, and don't even bother mentioning it on their websites. But not Barack Obama.
Barack Obama has been working on reforming government from the first day he got elected to office. He's recently released his detailed plan for ethics reform that will transform Washington to allow him to transform America.
Gift Ban Act
As a state Senator, Obama sponsored
of the Gift Ban Act, a landmark piece of legislation which has helped cut down on the corruption in the somewhat ethically-challenged world of Illinois politics, although I'm ashamed to say that my state's political world is even more ethically-challenged.
New Jersey is fighting back against corruption, led by Obama-endorsing and extremely Obama-like Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey.
- Booker grew up in a pretty well-off family [much more wealthy than Obama's, however they both grew up in better circumstances than the vast majority of African-Americans their age].
- Immediately after law school, he moved to the notorious Brick Towers project (he now lives in an apartment in the drug-and-gang plagued south side of Newark) in Newark, New Jersey and began working at organizing the tenants to fight for better conditions. (Obama organized on the South side of Chicago)
- In 2002 he ran against the corrupt machine politician Sharpe James in a heavily covered race, but lost (Obama ran against Bobby Rush, telecommunication's best Democratic friend in their fight against net neutrality).
- In 2006 he made clear his intentions to run again. Although Sharpe James was initially considering running again, the corruption started really coming out and he dropped out of the race, leaving lack-luster deputy mayor Ronald Rice to run. Cory Booker beat him with 72% of the vote (Jack Ryan was going to run against Obama but dropped out after his disturbing sex life came out; against lack-luster candidate Alan Keyes, Obama got 70% of the vote).
- (He told this story at a fundraiser for Obama last night in Newark that I attended) At the 2004 convention, Booker was accosted by a "bunch of midwestern white women" who were telling him he should be the VP candidate instead of Edwards (Booker was "I wouldn't go that far") and then said "Mr. Obama, I loved your speech. Could we get a picture with you." Booker replied "Lady, there's more than one sexy black man at this convention."
Coburn-Obama Earmark Reform
In his first session in the Senate, Obama reached across the aisle to work with the usually very odious Tom Coburn to create a public searchable website. This site make earmarks & government spending more transparent to the American people (this helps make corruption like that of Duke Cunningham and MZM Inc. easier to stop [I use a picture of the Dukestir as my wallpaper; I don't really remember why, though]
Listen to Obama discuss the act here
Feingold-Obama Ethics Reform
At the beginning of this Congress, Obama worked with Senator Russ Feingold on the Feingold-Obama Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act, much of which was incorporated into the Senate-passed ethics bill S. 1 in the form of amendments S. Amdt. 31 and S. Amdt. 33 as well as in other amendments.
Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act
Obama himself has authored a bill called The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, which would do the following:
Amends the Revised Statutes and federal criminal law to prohibit any person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, from knowingly deceiving any other person regarding: (1) the time, place, or manner of conducting any federal election; or (2) the qualifications for or restrictions on voter eligibility for any such election. Makes intent to prevent another person from exercising the right to vote an essential element of the offense. Creates a private right of action for any person aggrieved by a violation of such prohibition.
It institutes a criminal penalty for those who break this law.
Upon notification by anyone that such deceptive practices have occurred, the Attorney General is required to review such reports of deceptive practices, and if it's likely they have occurred, the AG must take measures to disburse corrections.
He has been one of the leading advocates for Russ Feingold's act to require Senate candidates to file their disclosures electronically, which would have made it much easier to find out such things as Joe Lieberman's "petty cash" thing, also co-sponsoring the failed attempt to include the provision in the ethics bill.
One of the biggest strangleholds special interest have on Washington is that Congress and the President are beholden to special interests for campaign funds.
Barack acted to try to preserve public financing for the presidential general election by asking the FEC for an advisory opinion on whether he could raise funds for the general and then return them if his opponent agreed to use public financing in the general election. The FEC ruled that Senator Obama could in fact do this. So far, only Senator McCain has agreed to participate in this public-financing method in the general election.
Of course, he realizes the current system of public financing can't really go on. This is why he is also leading on reform, co-sponsoring with Senator Feingold a bill to reform the financing of presidential campaigns
This act would do the following:
- Instead of $1 matching for every $1 raised, $4 would be given for every $1 raised.
- The maximum individual contribution in the new system would be $200 instead of $250
- The primary qualifying threshold would be raised from $5,000 in 20 states to $25,000 in 20 states (to try to keep nutjobs like LaRouche from getting public financing; any semi-serious candidate should have no trouble raising that much money).
- Require participation in public financing in the primary to be eligible for it in the general
- Start paying out funds 6 months before the first primary instead of on January 1st (currently, of course, only several weeks from the first primary, if that)
- Allows additional payments and increased expenditure limits for those facing serious candidates choosing not to use public financing.
- "designate the last Friday before the first Monday in September as the date for payments to eligible presidential candidates"
- Increasing the income tax check-off from $3 to $10 (I expect all Kossacks to start doing so once this bill passes).
A. Increases primary spending limits and eliminates spending limits by state
B. Limits party general election expenditures to $50,000,000 ($25,000,000 before the nomination).
C. Prohibits soft money being spent on national conventions
D. Requires disclosure for bundled contributions greater than $10,000.
Of course, Obama believes public financing should be instituted in more than just the Presidential election. That's why he's an original co-sponsor of Senator Dick Durbin's bill to institute public financing for Senate elections (a companion bill to institute public financing for House elections has been introduced in the House). Senator Durbin blogged here about this on Wednesday. I suggest you read it if you haven't already.
Obama's Reform plan as President
You can download the detailed plan here
The proposal that struck me as most interesting was his plan for "21st Century Fireside chats"
People who care deeply about issues in Washington
but live outside the beltway rarely have the opportunity to question and interact with government agencies. Messages are filtered through the media, and many times the hard questions are not asked. Barack Obama will bring democracy and policy directly to the people by requiring his Cabinet officials to have periodic national broadband town hall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies. The Internet makes it possible to take our leaders directly to the people. If this is possible then it should also be mandatory.
Of course, it'll be refreshing enough to have cabinet members who'll answer questions asked by U.S. Senators instead of saying "I don't recall" or "I'm not going to answer that."
But won't it be awesome for people like us to be able to ask them questions?
Obama's plan commits to bringing Web 2.0 to the federal government.
Ensuring Qualified, Objective Officials in the Executive Branch
- Obama plans to issue an executive order requiring all political appointees to have the qualifications and experience necessary to perform their jobs. Of course, no Democrat is going to appoint another Brownie to a high office (I hope). But there are far too many appointees for the president to personally talk to and ensure that lower-level appointees are qualified. This order will ensure that these appointees are in fact qualified.
- Obama will issue an executive order prohibiting lobbyists or lobbying firms from giving any gift of any amount to any employee in the executive branch (an added advantage is that this should prevent husband-wife lobbyist/official teams).
- Obama will issue an executive order requiring newly hired employees to sign documents affirming that they weren't offered the job solely for political reasons, and prohibiting those engaged in hiring from taking political affiliation into account.
- Obama will issue an executive order creating an effective enforcement mechanism for the Hatch Act's prohibitions of ideological litmus tests for non-political hires, as well as its prohibitions of other political abuses like Lurita Doan's infamous presentation on endangered Republican members of Congress.
Disclosure, Disclosure, Disclosure
- Obama will work to expand the Coburn-Obama earmark transparency bill to require the Office of Management and Budget to post all tax breaks and tax earmarks on its website as well.
- Obama will amend Executive Order 12866 to ensure that all policy meetings between White House staff and outside officials (i.e. corporate interests). The only thing he'll use executive privilege for is to protect national security (which is of course the only thing the Bush administration didn't use it for, what with their leaking the names of covert operatives).
- Obama will require federal agency business be made public; videos of hearings and meetings will be available on the Web, and transcripts will be available as well.
- Obama will issue an executive order to require information to be released under the FOIA unless the agency sees harm to a protected interest (for instance, certain details on studies/cases concerning minors) instead of forcing people to sue for that right like the Bush administration has.
Limit the Power of Lobbyists
- Obama will prohibit all appointees from working in an area related to their former employer for two years.
- Nobody who leaves the Obama administration to become a lobbyist will ever be allowed to lobby the Obama administration; they'll have to wait for the next president.
- Ending no-bid contracts; Obama will require that all contracts over $25,000 be sourced competitively unless the contracting officer can provide written (and thus publicly disclosed under his new disclosure rules) justification that it falls under one of a very limited number of specified exceptions.