Washington— Half a century after America last attempted major government ethics reform, the country again finds itself with a unique opportunity to reimagine our democracy, establish new expectations for public officials and remake the institutions that preserve government by the people and for the people, according to What Democracy Looks Like, a comprehensive roadmap to an accountable, inclusive and ethical government released today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
“Meaningful reform begins with a sober assessment of what we have gotten wrong. For the last four years we have witnessed the unraveling of government as we knew it. We now know that the norms of ethical and effective governance that were built up over the decades since President Richard Nixon were far weaker than we expected,” the report reads. “But the imperative to repair our democracy is not merely a reaction to the last four years. It is the product of a decades-long corrosion of the guardrails of our democracy, and also of the systematic exclusion of many voices that has plagued our democracy since its founding.”
What Democracy Looks Like provides a detailed analysis of how to best ensure that the federal government acts in the best interests of the public. Each section of the report addresses loopholes and flaws in the current system that allow for corruption, reduced democratic representation, and abuses of power. In addressing these flaws, the report explains how using public resources to monitor and promote full transparency and accountability by elected and appointed officials will lead to a more equitable and fair government that works for the American people.
There are eight ways in which American democracy needs reform:
- Holding Presidents Accountable: CREW calls for rebuilding and reinstituting checks and balances on presidential power and instituting laws that will prevent public officials from entering a position in which they may be able to make decisions for their own personal, financial and political benefit.
- Restoring Checks on Executive Power: By restoring Congress’s ability to conduct meaningful oversight, whether through punishing executive branch noncompliance with congressional investigations or through seeking redress in courts of law, there will be an even distribution of power between the branches that will ensure that no branch retains the power to exert its will and ignore the others.
- Limiting Secret Money in Politics: Dark money plays a substantial role in electoral politics and continues to amplify the voices of special interest groups while drowning out local community interests. The report proposes solutions for redefining campaign finance and lobbying laws so that special interest groups and wealthy donors do not continue to dominate and exploit the democratic process.
- Reforming Executive Branch Ethics: Strengthening ethics laws and divestiture requirements for top-level executive branch appointees will ensure they cannot use their public offices for private gain.
- Restoring Executive Branch Transparency: Thorough and accurate record preservation is key to reestablishing and preserving public trust. Reform to public information access laws will prevent government officials from hiding information that could be politically harmful or embarrassing.
- Reforming Congressional Ethics: Congress should establish a comprehensive ethics regime for itself and act with full transparency with regard to members’ own conflicts of interest or outside positions that could pose a future conflict.
- Reforming Judicial Ethics: CREW proposes the creation of a single judicial ethics body tasked with applying, enforcing and expanding judicial ethics rules to every federal court—including the Supreme Court. It also calls for the expanding public access to court proceedings and documents
- Improving Our Democracy: Aggressively reforming several structural pillars of American democracy could deliver lasting benefits to the strength of its institutions and to the vitality of democracy. This includes taking measures that would protect every American’s ability to fully participate in our democracy and admitting the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico for statehood.
“Opportunities for true democratic reform are rare,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “The last four years have demonstrated that corruption not only undermines the integrity of our government, but also disrupts the system of checks and balances that keeps our democracy from devolving into autocracy. What Democracy Looks Like will serve as a blueprint to establish new expectations for public officials and for how all three branches of government should operate in order to create a truly strong and ethical democracy that works for all Americans.”