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Licking Our Democracy’s Wounds

Why Congress Must Pass the Protect Our Democracy Act

By Zach Brown

Since the last few weeks have been pure chaos even by 2020’s lofty standards, you may not have seen that members of the House of Representatives recently introduced a bill designed to directly address the numerous democracy issues that have surfaced during the Trump Administration and further protect the legitimacy and internal functions of our government for the future. The Protect Our Democracy Act, serving as an effective legislative referendum on four whole years of Executive Branch deceit, corruption, and impropriety, is the extensive reform package needed to address the equally extensive institutional damage.

The important legislative package firmly puts in place various much needed measures to protect the nation against possible future presidential abuses of power. The many dangers related to the abuse of the pardon power are particularly addressed, as the bill mandates that Congress must be provided any information regarding pardon or commutations in cases involving the President or his relatives, or that involve the direct obstruction of congress. Additionally, the bill clarifies that “pardons” are punishable acts that could be related to federal bribery charges. And lastly, the bill’s language explicitly states that self-pardons are prohibited (putting a decisive period on a rather unfortunate legal debate that nobody could have predicted would be a reality until this Administration.)

And while we’ve all been forced to observe in real time some of the more dubious actions of the Department of Justice under the Trump Administration, the reform package firmly puts in place guardrails against improper cooperation between the White House and the DOJ. With this bill’s passage, the DOJ would now be required to maintain a detailed log of all communications between themselves and the White House that would be fully open to congressional review, a safeguard which clearly would have come in handy over the last four years.

The reform package also addresses the significant damage that has been done to our government’s delicate system of checks and balances. Notably, this bill solidifies Congress’ ability to enforce subpoenas, while also further bolstering congressional oversight powers over federal spending. Known colloquially as the “power of the purse” , the Constitution has always vested Congress with the power to tax and spend public money for the national government. However, the current administration has repeatedly skirted that long established governmental standard, most egregiously by declaring a national emergency to provide funds for the construction of President Trump’s noxious border wall. Even better, the bill not only adds increased transparency and reporting requirements for federal spending, it also creates penalties for failure to comply with the measures—providing much-needed bite to ensure that these new federal spending regulations are fully recognized.

The bill also importantly contains multiple provisions to safeguard our elections, both requiring that political campaigns more accurately report contacts with foreign officials and also making these contacts reviewable by congressional intelligence committees. Additionally, the bill expands the ban on foreign donations to include information gathered for political advantage and greatly heightens criminal penalties for related violations—a no brainer facet of any anti-corruption package given the widespread concerns of so many Americans.

But rest assured, these are only just a small portion of the great policies within the highly expansive Protect Our Democracy Act. From much needed whistleblower protections to highly desirable provisions requiring that “acting” heads of agencies can serve no longer than 120 days, this bill must be passed to ensure that the four-year roller coaster of deception, ethical pitfalls, and corruption we have been on can never be ridden again. And while it may be fair to say that it would be difficult for any government to have been fully prepared for the ethical issues that Trump’s first term brought squarely to the forefront, that is no excuse to leave our government’s laws and regulations untouched and vulnerable to the possibility of future violations.

Fool us once, shame on you. But fool us twice? America can’t afford to take that chance.