Tom Perriello: Government accountability
Column by Tom Perriello
When I came to Congress last year, I promised to fight for economic relief for my constituents, but also to change the way business is done in Washington. For far too long, both parties have answered to the special interests instead of to the people. Sometimes it can seem like Congress is not bound by the same rules as everyone else. It’s time to bring Main Street values of decency, openness, and accountability to the halls of Washington.
I’m proud of the steps my office has made so far. In our own earmark process, we posted all of our requests online and also included guidelines on how projects were chosen to make our criteria transparent to the public. I have voted against powerful members of my own party multiple times in support of investigating ties between illegal contributions and earmarking by top-ranking members of the Appropriations Committee. I was an original cosponsor of H.R. 2038, the Clean Law for Earmark Accountability Reform (CLEAR) Act, which would prohibit House members from accepting campaign contributions from executives or lobbyists for businesses and then sponsoring earmarks for those entities in the same election cycle.
Now, I am joining together with other freshmen to introduce a government reform agenda of common-sense ideas to shake up Washington as usual and restore public faith in our democratic institutions.
1) Make Earmarks More Transparent. Amend House rules to permanently prohibit earmarks made to for-profit corporations, and require that detailed information about earmark requests be compiled in a searchable online database.
2) Improve Ethics Investigations. Amend the House rules to require preliminary reports from ethics investigations to be issued within 90 days of commencement, and designate a special liaison within the Ethics Committee to handle complaints or concerns from congressional staff.
3) Close The Revolving Door. Amend the House rules to prohibit a member from negotiating or accepting a job involving lobbying activity until after his or her successor has been elected, or until the member has left the House.
4) Improve Public Access to Vital Information. Require federal government agencies to write public documents like tax returns, federal college aid applications, and Veterans Administration forms in simple, easy-to-understand language.
5) Make Members’ Expenses More Transparent and Return Any Unused Funds. Post all congressional office expenses on the Clerk’s website, and require offices to return any unused funds at the end of a fiscal year to be deposited in the Treasury and used for deficit reduction.
6) Reform Congressional Travel. Amend the House rules to require timely and full accounting of amounts received for travel-related per diems over and above actual expenses, and nullify the proposed FEC rule that would facilitate lobbyist-paid travel by allowing campaign-related travel on private jets at reduced fares.
7) Enact a Voluntary Small Donor Campaign Funding System. Pass the Fair Elections Now Act, of which I am a cosponsor, which would offer Congressional candidates the option to qualify for a limited public grant by collecting a set number of small contributions from constituents.
I will work with my colleagues to pass these much-needed reforms so we can make government more transparent, efficient, and accountable to its people.