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Groups Urge Congress to Increase Accountability and Transparency of Pandemic Spending

The CORE Act Would Increase Oversight, Slow Revolving Door, Restrict Lobbying

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress should quickly pass the Coronavirus Oversight and Recovery Ethics Act (CORE Act) to increase accountability and transparency of pandemic-related stimulus spending, more than 50 academics and organizations, including Public Citizen, said today in a letter to congressional leadership.

The federal government is spending trillions on critical aid to help keep citizens and businesses afloat during the economic downturn, but there is shockingly little oversight over how these funds are being spent, which already has resulted in abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars, the letter noted.

The CORE Act, to be introduced this week by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), and U.S. Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), would establish strong conflict of interest standards to restrict government officials from going to work as lobbyists for contractors or corporations that receive relief funds. The measure would guarantee the independence of inspectors general monitoring how these funds are being spent. It also would restrict lobbying and political expenditures by those competing for federal assistance and require regular public reports by all recipients as to how they are spending our money.

“Many instances of self-dealing, fraud and waste have already become public record,” the letter said. “The potential for further abuse is enormous, which demands further actions by Congress to protect taxpayer dollars and to ensure that the public understands whether relief funds are being spent as intended and for the good of the nation.”

Funds intended to bolster small businesses have been doled out to large corporations already flush with cash. The New York Times identified a dozen large companies that had access to ample capital – and then applied for and received millions in federal loans under the coronavirus small business bailout program.

Another company, AutoWeb, disclosed last week that it had paid its chief executive $1.7 million – a week after it received $1.4 million from the same loan program. A Michigan osteopath accused of bilking the government out of millions through fraudulent Medicare billings collected more than $2.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for his clinics.

The letter’s signers include groups ranging from American Family Voices to Public Citizen to the National Association of Social Workers. Scholars who signed the letter range from former ethics czars for the Obama and Bush administrations to political scientists.

“Experience has taught us that corruption and waste can diminish the impact and cost-effectiveness of emergency spending programs by the government. Experience has also taught us that oversight measures like those contained in the CORE Act can prevent that corruption and waste,” the letter continued.

Read the letter here.