I grew up reading comic books wanting to be a superhero. Comics taught me that those who speak the truth are heroes, all the rest are liars.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Democrats Leading The Way Beyond Corruption

Howard Dean, Chairman of the DNC, is offering us a way beyond the corruption...now call your representatives tell them the time has come (truth be told it's long past time!):

Democrats offer an aggressive reform package to reverse Republican excesses and restore the public trust. Our program for change embodies the following provisions:

The Tony Rudy Reform: Close the Revolving Door. Close the revolving door between the Congress and lobbying firms by doubling (from one year to two) the cooling-off period during which lawmakers, senior Congressional staff, and Executive Branch officials are prohibited from lobbying their former offices. Eliminate floor privileges for former Members of Congress and officers of the Senate and House who return to lobby.

--WHY: Republicans’ Revolving Door Lead to Criminal Activity. “Abramoff developed a close relationship with [DeLay] deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy. ‘For all intents and purposes, Tony worked for Jack,’ contends a former Abramoff associate, who tells TIME that Abramoff even bought Rudy a text-messaging pager so that they would never be out of touch…When Rudy left DeLay’s staff in 2000, he joined Abramoff at the lobbying firm of Greenberg Traurig. Rudy now works for Buckham at Alexander Strategy Group, another lobbying operation.” In addition, “Identifying [former Bob Ney Chief of Staff Neil] Volz only as ‘Staffer B,’ the Abramoff plea agreement suggests he may have lobbied Ney, members of his congressional staff and the House Administration Committee only one month after leaving a staff position on Ney’s committee - far short of the one-year cooling off period required by law.” [Time, 1/16/06; Copley News Service, 1/5/06]

The Ralph Reed Reform: Toughen Public Disclosure of Lobbyist Activity. Significantly expand the information lobbyists must disclose - including campaign contributions and client fees. Require them to file disclosure reports electronically, and increase the frequency of those filings. Require lobbyists to certify that they did not violate the rules, and make them subject to criminal penalties for false certifications.

--WHY: Michael Scanlon and Ralph Reed Secretly Exploited Voters by Not Disclosing Clients. “Abramoff partner and former DeLay aide, Michael Scanlon, paid Ralph Reed $1.2 million to help oppose a new tribal casino that would compete with the casinos run by Abramoff’s tribal clients. Ralph Reed used the money and his Christian Coalition network to raise grassroots opposition to the competing casino without disclosing to his followers that their anti-gambling efforts were being funded by a competing gambling interest. [Washington Post, 8/30/04]

The Jack Abramoff Reform: Ban Lobbyist Gifts and Travel. Prohibit the receipt of gifts, including gifts of meals, entertainment and travel, from lobbyists.
--WHY: Lobbyists’ Gifts Created Unethical Relationships Among Republican Congressmen. “First came the dinner invitations, then the tickets. Staffers in the office of former House Majority leader Tom DeLay could dine -- usually, free of charge -- at Signatures, the expense-account restaurant conveniently owned by lobbyist Jack Abramoff…the DeLay staffers began to think that Abramoff’s box at the arena was their box, and, in the cozy way of Washington, it might as well have been.” Abramoff also reportedly flew aides to Sen. Burns and Rep. DeLay to the 2001 Super Bowl and, during that trip, provided each with $500 worth of gambling chips on a SunCruz ship partly owned by Mr. Abramoff. [Newsweek, 1/16/06; Washington Post, 3/5/05; The Hill, 12/7/05]

The Grover Norquist Reform: Shut Down Pay-to-Play Schemes Like the “K Street Project.” End efforts like the “K Street Project,” which Republicans created to tell corporations and lobbying firms whom they should hire in exchange for political access.

--WHY: Republicans Dictated Hiring at Corporations, Trade Associations and Lobbying Firms - and let Special Interests Dominate the Republican Agenda in Return. “DeLay, Santorum, and their associates organized a systematic campaign, closely monitored by Republicans on Capitol Hill and by Grover Norquist and the Republican National Committee, to put pressure on firms not just to hire Republicans but also to fire Democrats. With the election of Bush, this pressure became stronger…Several Democratic lobbyists have been pushed out of their jobs as a result; business associations who hire Democrats for prominent positions have been subject to retribution.” In addition, “while it’s not uncommon for lobbyists to have a hand in writing legislation on the Hill, the Bush administration has sometimes shifted the locus of executive policy making so far towards K Street that Bush’s own appointees are cut out of the process.” [New York Review of Books, 6/23/05; Washington Monthly, July/August 2003]

The Scully & Tauzin Reform: Disclosure of Outside Job Negotiations. Requires lawmakers to disclose when they are negotiating private sector jobs, and requires Executive Branch officials who are negotiating private sector jobs to receive approval from the independent Office of Government Ethics.

--WHY: Jack Abramoff Offered Lobbying Jobs to Congressional Staff for Helping his Clients on Legislation While Members and Executive Officials Took Lobbying Jobs After Regulating Industry. “Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, who exercised jurisdiction over the industry as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, will become president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America on Jan. 3, when he retires from Congress…As a committee chairman in 2003, Tauzin helped to write the law to provide outpatient prescription coverage under Medicare.” Thomas Scully, the former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, held job negotiations with the same industries he regulated while also drafting the Medicare prescription drug bill. [Los Angeles Times, 12/16/04; GovExec, 4/9/04]

The Frist & Hastert Reform: Prohibit “Dead of Night” Special Interest Provisions. Require that all conference committee meetings be open to the public and that members of the conference committee have a public opportunity to vote on all amendments. Make copies of conference reports available to Members, and post them publicly on the Internet, 24 hours before consideration (unless waived by a supermajority vote).

--WHY: Frist and Hastert Inserted a Special Interest Liability Provision in the Middle of the Night. According to Congressman David Obey, “The conference committee ended its work with the understanding, both verbal and in writing, that there would be no legislative liability protection language inserted in this bill…But after the conference was finished at 6 p.m., Senator Frist marched over to the House side of the Capitol about 4 hours later and insisted that over 40 pages of legislation, which I have in my hand, 40 pages of legislation that had never been seen by conferees, be attached to the bill. The Speaker joined him in that assistance so that, without a vote of the conferees, that legislation was unilaterally and arrogantly inserted into the bill after the conference was over in a blatantly abusive power play by two of the most powerful men in Congress…” [Congressional Record, 12/22/05]

The Halliburton Reform: Zero Tolerance for Contract Cheaters. Restore accountability and openness in federal contracting by subjecting major contract actions to public disclosure and aggressive competition; criminally prosecuting contractors who cheat taxpayers, with penalties including suspension and debarment; imposing stiff criminal and civil penalties for wartime fraud on government contracting; prohibiting contractors with conflicts of interest from conducting oversight or writing contract requirements they could bid on; mandating full disclosure of contract overcharges; creating tough penalties for improper no-bid contracts; and closing the revolving door between federal contract officials and private contractors.

--WHY: No-Bid Contracts Bilked American Taxpayers. In March 2003, in what the top Army Corps contracting officer at the time has called the worst case of contracting abuse she ever witnessed, the Pentagon awarded Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root a no-bid contract to rebuild Iraqi oil fields and conduct “operation of facilities and distribution of products.” The initial deal was thought to be worth as much as $7 billion dollars. Halliburton is the largest private contractor in post-war Iraq, with potential deals totaling well over $11 billion. It continues to receive major federal contracts despite over $1.4 billion in disputed billing charges and numerous other abuses. Before becoming Vice President, Dick Cheney served as Halliburton’s Chairman. [Los Angeles Times, 5/7/03; Washington Post, 2/10/04; AP, 9/26/03]

The Brownie Reform: Prohibit Cronyism in Key Appointments. End rampant cronyism by requiring that any individual appointed to a position involving public safety possess proven credentials, and training or expertise in one or more areas relevant to the position.

--WHY: Cronyism Led to Incompetence in Key Agencies like Michael Brown, the College Roommate of President Bush’s 2000 Campaign Manager, who was Appointed to Head FEMA and Presided over a legacy of neglect at the agency. Like David Safavian, who was appointed to head the government’s procurement office with no experience and was later arrested for lying to the FBI, Michael Brown was appointed to run FEMA without the requisite experience. According to Time, “this [second] Bush Administration had a plan from day one for remaking the bureaucracy, and has done so with greater success. As far back as the Florida recount, soon-to-be Vice President Dick Cheney was poring over organizational charts of the government with an eye toward stocking it with people sympathetic to the incoming Administration…Bush has gone further than most Presidents to put political stalwarts in some of the most important government jobs you’ve never heard of, and to give them genuine power over the bureaucracy. Some of the appointments are raising serious concerns in the agencies themselves and on Capitol Hill about the competence and independence of agencies that the country relies on to keep us safe, healthy and secure.” [Time Magazine, 10/3/05]

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