Coalition to Candidates: Take Pledge to Put Voters First

June 21, 2006

Coalition to Candidates: Take Pledge to Put Voters First

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen

Money in politics from corporate interests always comes with strings attached. It is the very source of the wave of corruption sweeping over Capitol Hill. Repeated scandals have disappointed and angered voters, who want to vote for candidates interested in rescuing our broken democracy.

There is a simple and effective solution: public financing for both presidential and congressional campaigns. This is essential to restoring integrity in Congress and boosting public confidence in the federal government.

But public financing has to be bolstered with effective controls on lobbying money.

The Voters First Pledge that our coalition will be promoting throughout the 2006 elections asks candidates to support public funding of campaigns for those who decline to accept private contributions, as well as to support two critical anti-corruption reforms.

The first of these reforms would Restore Accountability in Congress by creating and enforcing meaningful new restrictions for members of Congress concerning gifts and travel from lobbyists and other powerful interests.

Government ethics – especially these days – is a laughable oxymoron. Congress has some ethics rules on the books, but no one is watching. There is no effective enforcement agency to monitor Congress or lobbyists, and the existing ethics committees have squandered the American people’s trust. When members of Congress police themselves, they do a poor job. It appears that no one looks seriously at lobbyist compliance with legal rules either.

It was not until the Department of Justice stepped in and took over the enforcement of congressional ethics that any of the scandals involving Jack Abramoff, former California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham or Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson came to light.

The ethics rules that do exist are not enough. We need new, meaningful restrictions on privately sponsored travel for members of Congress and a complete ban on gifts for members.

The second reform in the pledge would Protect Voters’ Right to Know about who is paying for campaigns. We ask that candidates support a requirement for full disclosure on the Internet of all lobbyist contributions and any fundraising help that members of Congress get from lobbyists.

The most important tool that lobbyists have on Capitol Hill is their fundraising for members of Congress. Lobbyist contributions and the money they raise for members are difficult to track. There is no reporting by lobbyists of the vast sums of money they produce for lawmakers by organizing fundraising events or bundling contributions. It is a no-brainer that lobbyists should be required to fully disclose their fundraising activity for politicians and campaigns.

Jack Abramoff is not alone in attempting to bribe lawmakers through fundraising events. The Federal Election Commission recently issued its largest fine in history against another lobbyist for Freddie Mac – in response to a complaint from Public Citizen – in which the lobbyist boasted of “unparalleled access” to lawmakers because of his fundraising activities and how he was able to keep one committee chairman “on the sidelines” through campaign money.

This coalition is working to clean up Washington. We are asking that candidates for office in November pledge their support for public financing and create and enforce meaningful new restrictions on ethics and lobbying. This pledge campaign is the first step in persuading all candidates to put voters – and the integrity of our democratic system – first.

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To read the Voters First Pledge, click here.

To read the press release, click here.

To read the full text of the pollsters’ findings, click here.