Strengthening Congressional Oversight Powers

As the executive branch has become more powerful over the last few decades, the possibility for abuses of power has increased. Congress must take some power back and exert itself as a co-equal branch of government. 

Reform National Emergencies Powers – National emergencies are supposed to be declared during extraordinary circumstances that require rapid action by the executive branch. However, there are currently more than 30 “emergencies” that have been in effect for decades, and broad emergency powers have the potential for abuse. Reforms should include:

  • Give Congress the power to affirmatively approve a national emergency declaration. If Congress does not approve of the declared emergency it would terminate at the end of 30 days. 
  • If an emergency is approved it would terminate one year after it was declared to prevent endless emergencies. 

Codify Consequences For Obstructing Congressional Subpoenas 

  • Congress’ ability to conduct oversight often relies on subpoenaing testimony from key individuals. Ignoring Congressional subpoenas limits Congress’ role in conducting oversight. Congress should outline new rules for when an individual would be held in contempt of Congress, including punitive measures for not complying with a subpoena.  

As the executive branch has become more powerful over the last few decades, the possibility for abuses of power has increased. Congress must take some power back and exert itself as a co-equal branch of government.

Protecting the Right to Vote

Our representative democracy fails if the right to vote is not protected. To ensure the health of our democracy, voting rights should be protected. 

Our representative democracy fails if the right to vote is not protected. To ensure the health of our democracy, voting rights should be protected.

Restoration of Voting Rights For People Who Have Served Time

  • Individuals who have committed criminal offenses should automatically have their voting rights restored after they have completed their sentence. 

Restore the Voting Rights Act

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the most important civil rights laws in modern history because it banned discrimination that prohibited some citizens from exercising the right to vote. One way the law did this was by mandating that states with a history of discriminatory laws receive preclearance from the Department of Justice before implementing changes to voting laws, to ensure the proposed changes were not discriminatory. This part of the law was effective until a 2013 Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, removed the preclearance requirement, arguing that the formula for determining which areas were subjected to the preclearance requirement were outdated. After this piece of the law was removed, multiple states passed or attempted to pass discriminatory laws. Some of these laws were later overturned by the courts. 

The preclearance requirement must be restored at the federal level and states should move to pass supplemental laws to prohibit discriminatory laws from being passed in the future. 

Securing Our Elections

The right to vote is only meaningful if voters have faith in our elections. Election security should be a top priority.

Improve Voting Systems 

  • Voter-verifiable paper ballots – regardless of the voting method used, before submitting their official vote to be counted voters should be presented with a paper ballot that they are able to verify their vote. These paper ballots provide a necessary check on electronic voting systems and can help prevent hacking and malfunctions. 
  • Risk-limiting audits – states should be required to conduct random sampled audits to verify that the electronic results of an election match the voter-verifiable paper ballots. 

Combatting Foreign Interference

  • One of the first lines of defense against foreign interference is for campaigns to cooperate with authorities and inform them if foreign entities attempt to interfere in our elections. Congress should pass legislation requiring campaigns, candidates, and the candidate’s family members to report any interactions with, or contributions from, foreign nationals or entities to the FBI.

Campaign Finance Reform

We have seen an explosion of money spent on elections in recent years, as well as an increase of dark money. There should be more campaign finance transparency.

  • New legislation that requires PACs, Super PACs, 501(c)4, and other organizations to disclose donors who contribute more than $10,000.
  • Additional disclosure requirements for political advertising including publicizing donor lists and top executives of advertising entities. 
  • Require publicly traded companies to consult with shareholders before engaging in political spending. Without donor disclosure requirements, many companies are able to make considerable political contributions without disclosing what issues or candidates they are supporting, not even to their shareholders. By requiring companies to consult with shareholders it will bring more transparency to corporate political contributions. 
  • Require government contractors to disclose political expenditures of the company’s officers, shareholders, and corporate affiliates to reduce the risk of corruption.
  • Explore options for public financing of elections through pilot programs including small donor matching, vouchers, and tax credits. 

Improve Political Advertising Transparency

Voters should know who is behind the political advertisements they see. Congress must improve transparency in political advertising, especially internet-based advertisements.

  • Congress must pass legislation to bring disclosures of internet-based political advertisements in line with TV, radio, and satellite. This includes public disclosure of the ad purchases, disclaimers, and efforts to ensure foreign individuals or entities are not paying for political advertisements to influence US elections.

Strengthen Accountability of the Executive Branch

It is not enough to rely on long-standing norms when it comes to the Office of the President. New laws should be created to ensure more oversight of the executive branch.

Strengthen Emoluments Prohibition 

  • New legislation is needed that specifically bans presidents from receiving foreign emoluments, including those received through pre-existing businesses. 
  • There must also be specific and adequate consequences for those that violate the foreign emoluments clause.

Financial Transparency of Presidential Candidates

  • Require candidates to release the last five years of their tax returns and other pertinent financial information within six months of the election so that voters and Congress can know the extent of any potential foreign entanglements.

Prevent Conflicts of Interests and Possible Corruption

  • Require elected presidents and vice presidents to renounce positions in other businesses and/or sell any stakes owned in any business
  • Before being sworn in, presidents and vice presidents should also be required to place their assets in a blind trust

Oversight of Presidential Pardons

  • Ban presidential self-pardons and the pardons of immediate family members
  • In the event of an apparent self-serving pardon (relating to cases that directly impact the president), the Attorney General should be required to submit to Congress any investigative material related to the ongoing investigation, and any information related to the Department of Justice’s consideration of the pardon. Additionally, the White House should be required to submit to Congress any materials related to the pardon.

Improved Clarity And Consequences Regarding Executive Branch Ethics Laws and Violations, Including The Hatch Act 

In recent years, there have been little or no consequences for violations of ethics rules committed by those within the executive branch. Clearer rules and consequences for violations are needed.

  • Congress should introduce new legislation that gives Congress the authority to investigate violations of ethics laws within the executive branch.
  • Establish clear and effective consequences to punish violators and encourage good, ethical behavior.
  • Strengthen the Hatch Act and consequences for violating the Act to prevent executive branch employees from engaging in campaigning or other overt political work.

Improve Protections For Inspectors General, Whistleblowers, And Civil Servants

Accountability is a vital component of good governance. Providing protection for those seeking to hold our government accountable when legitimate abuses are being committed is vital for a strong democracy.

  • New legislation should provide limits on when an Inspector General is able to be removed from office and only for cause. 
  • Support bipartisan legislation which requires that 30 days before the president fires an inspector general, they must submit a report to Congress detailing the decision. This legislation is aimed at limiting any politically motivated firings.
  • Create and strengthen protected dissent channels across government agencies for employees to raise issues without repercussions. Dissents should be submitted to appropriate Congressional committees to ensure oversight and protection of dissenters. 
  • Give government officials access to the appropriate authorities to safely report any legitimate abuses, without fear of retribution.
  • Improve protection of whistleblowers including: protection of whistleblower identity and protection against retribution for blowing the whistle.  
  • Overturn Trump’s Executive Order 13957 and institute other measures to protect civil servants from political retribution.

Prevent Political Interference in the Department of Justice

The Attorney General is not the president’s personal attorney and the Department of Justice is not the president’s law firm. Re-establishing the separation between the president and the AG is an important step in ensuring that the president is unable to abuse the power of the presidency.

Clarify proper and improper DOJ/White House interactions 

  • Prevent the president from using the DOJ and its resources for private legal matters. (Example)
  • Improve transparency requiring the AG to maintain a log of communications with White House with oversight by the Inspector General and Congress

Strengthen Judicial Independence

Money, partisanship, and personal interests have degraded the U.S. judicial system and have made it less independent.

  • Replace elections for state supreme court justices with an accountable appointment system. This would put an end to expensive and partisan campaigns, allowing for more independent justices and rulings.
  • Institute term limits for Supreme Court, state Supreme Court, and federal bench appointments.

Require Congressional Candidates Release Tax Returns For Transparency

Tax returns can reveal vital information about the finances of candidates and uncover possible conflicts of interests or debts that make them susceptible to outside influence.

  • Require all Congressional candidates release their two most recent tax returns at least three months before their election
    • This will allow voters to know that their elected representatives will work for them and not in their own financial interests.
    • Financial information can also show if a candidate owes debts in foreign countries and if they are susceptible to blackmail.

Reform the Electoral College

Every voter’s vote should count the same in a presidential election. In the last two decades we have seen two presidential candidates win the election but lose the popular vote. As population numbers continue to shift across the country, we should expect to see additional presidents who win the Electoral College but fail to win the support of most voters. This disparity can lead Americans to lose faith in the democratic process and may lead to a weakening of trust in the voting process.

Support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

While it may be difficult to pass an amendment to the Constitution that would move our electoral system to a national popular vote, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact provides a way to achieve a similar goal without needing to pass a Constitutional amendment.

States who are part of the compact guarantee that their electoral votes will go to whichever candidate wins the popular vote. Because our Constitution allows states to determine how their electoral votes will be allocated, this can be done without an amendment. 

  • There are already 15 states and DC, comprising 196 electoral votes, that have passed legislation to make this happen. The compact will go into effect when 74 more electoral votes are secured after enough states pass the legislation.
  • Nine additional states have already passed the legislation through one legislative chamber. 
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