Tom Perriello: Transparency

Column by Tom Perriello

I am committed to increased accountability and transparency in government, and pleased to report that we took two important steps forward in this direction last week in Congress.

First, we successfully blocked the automatic pay raise for Members of Congress for the 2011 fiscal year, a measure I co-sponsored and voted for. In these tough economic times, when families are tightening the purse strings, so must Congress. While middle-class and working families are struggling to get by, it’s just not right to be spending taxpayers’ money on raises for Members of Congress.

I am also a co-sponsor of H.R. 1597, which would repeal the law that provides automatic pay adjustments for Members of Congress. Instead, pay increases would be brought to a simple up-or-down vote.

In addition to limiting my own salary, my office has also been frugal in managing our own expenses. In 2009, my office spent only 81 percent of its allowance, returning over $270,000 to the United States Treasury for deficit reduction. If all 435 Members acted with such fiscal discipline, the deficit would decrease by over $110 million each year.

For this reason, I have also co-sponsored H.R. 3189, the TRIM Growth Act, which will prevent Members’ allowances from increasing if national unemployment is higher than 6 percent, or if the national debt is higher than $5.5 trillion. These measures alone won’t cure our deficit woes, but they are important steps in the right direction.

I’m also pleased to report that we’re taking bold new steps to increase accountability and transparency in our elections after a Supreme Court ruling (Citizens United v. FEC), which will allow unlimited corporate spending in elections. Because the Supreme Court ruling allowed a dangerous loophole that could allow corporations controlled by foreigners to influence our elections, I introduced a bill, H.R. 4523, the Save Our Democracy From Foreign Influence Act of 2010, which would extend the existing prohibition on contributions and expenditures by foreign nationals to include domestic corporations whose shareholders include foreign principals.

Last week, a bipartisan group of leaders in the U.S. House unveiled the DISCLOSE Act, a legislative response to the Supreme Court ruling. Included in the DISCLOSE Act is a provision similar to my bill that would prohibit contributions and expenditures by domestic corporations if a foreign national owns 20% or more of voting shares in the domestic corporation.

We have a serious duty to ensure that American elections belong to the American people. Our democracy cannot be put up for sale to big banks, lobby front groups, and even foreign-controlled corporations. Opening the floodgates to more corporate influence in our elections is a grave mistake, and allowing that process to be corrupted by a flood of cash from Saudi Arabia or China would be even graver. I applaud the bipartisan support behind this effort and look forward to voting for the DISCLOSE Act so that we can take the “for sale” sign off of the heart of American democracy.

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