Congress's 86% disapproval rating largely reflects growing disillusionment with Washington and its scandals, corruption, and cronyism. The lack of transparency and accountability undermines the political process and the public's trust, while lobbyists for powerful special interests gain legislative favors for their clients.
If we are going to restore trust in Congress, we must strengthen oversight that instills greater transparency and insists on accountability from our elected officials. We must also change the incentives in politics. Too often, politicians are solely motivated by self-dealing, reelection concerns, or advancing the interests of important donors.
Congress is not going to work until there is greater accountability. Here are five ideas to assure transparency and accountability in Congress and start down the road of making Congress more effective:
*Extend the Lobbying Ban
Currently, Representatives must wait only one year after they leave office before lobbying either chamber of Congress. This "cooling-off" period is too brief and has not been effective in reducing the flow of former legislators and Congressional staff to powerful lobbying firms.
Members of Congress should not cash in on their time as public servants. This waiting period should be extended to five years to stop the revolving door between Congress and K Street.
*Ban Insider Trading in Congress
Federal laws prohibit insider trading, and members of Congress should play by the same rules as everyone else. The Senate recently passed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act), which will prohibit members of Congress and Congressional employees from using any nonpublic information derived from their positions or gained from the performance of their official duties for personal benefit. This bill is an important step towards restoring trust and confidence in Congress, and the Senate did the right thing. I am committed to going to Washington and putting a stop to special perks and unfair privileges that only our representatives in Congress receive.
The House of Representatives has passed a weakened version of the STOCK Act, stripping out key provisions. We must support the stronger version of the bill, and fight for measures that will restore the public's faith in Congress.
Severe gerrymandering reduces electoral competition and undermines our political process. State legislatures have demonstrated that partisan concerns will outweigh common sense in the redistricting process, resulting in unfair representation and less accountability in our elected officials.
We must increase transparency and public participation in the redistricting process. Requiring redistricting to be conducted by independent commissions or boards with public input is one way to accomplish this. Several states already use independent, bipartisan commissions to conduct redistricting and provide positive examples for more widespread redistricting reforms.
Members of Congress are subject to some donor disclosure requirements, but these measures have not been sufficient to address ethical concerns. They should be required to supplement current donor disclosures that demonstrate correlations between the political activities of designated "high-impact political donors" like lobbyists and political action committees and a Member's official acts. This helps voters hold their elected officials accountable.
Term limits can increase electoral competition and serve as a check against entrenched career politicians and special interests. Elected members of Congress should serve for a maximum of 12 years from when such legislation is passed. This would allow two Senatorial terms or six Congressional terms. This would force out some dedicated public servants, but would encourage more challengers with fresh ideas to run for office.