Sen. Sasse proposes legislation to address Congress’ ethical lapses
WASHINGTON D.C. - United States Senator Ben Sasse has unveiled ethics legislation he hopes might restore public confidence in Congress by focusing on five measures which would address recent controversies.
Sasse says too many members, both Republicans and Democrats, try to get to Washington and stay there.
“In terms of their own incumbency and then in terms of having their nest eggs grow while they’re here and in terms of having a real high-paying, cushy job as a lobbyist when they leave, and we should tackle all that stuff,” Sasse tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Two of the five points in the legislation would have had a direct impact on the 2016 presidential election.
One would prohibit members of the presidential cabinet and their immediate family from soliciting foreign donations. Democrat Hillary Clinton has been accused of using her influence as Secretary of State and the influence of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to solicit donations to the Clinton Foundation.
The other would require presidential and vice-presidential candidates to release their tax returns, a practice which had become routine until President Donald Trump refused to do so. Trump has steadfastly rejected all requests to release his income tax returns.
Sasse, a Republican, says the aspect of his legislation which might have the biggest impact on the culture of Congress would be the proposal for a lifetime ban on members of Congress becoming paid lobbyists.
“I think you’d have a whole bunch of different incentives around why people run for office if they didn’t think they were winning the lottery; a bunch of lawyers and career Capitol Hill staffers who go back to where they’re from to run for office, because they plan to become a lobbyist when they leave,” Sasse says. “I think that would have massive, long-term effects on the culture of doing big, long-term public trustworthy things in both the House and the Senate.”
The final two aspects aim directly at current controversies engulfing members of Congress.
The legislation proposes creation of a public database of human resource settlements reached with members of Congress, making disclosure quicker and increasing the personal financial liability for members. Republican Blake Farenthold of Texas resigned from Congress amid disclosures his $84,000 sexual harassment settlement was paid with taxpayer money. Farenthold recently took a job as a lobbyist. Other members of Congress also have used taxpayer funds to pay off those accusing them of improprieties.
Finally, Sasse proposes banning members of Congress from trading stocks while in office. Republican Chis Collins of New York has been charged with insider trading.
Sasse hopes to capitalize on the rhetoric used recently to honor the late Sen. John McCain, though he understands he has a steep hill to climb.
“In some of the post-John McCain moment, a lot of people are agreeing that we should do something big that could restore some public trust,” according to Sasse. “Members of Congress obviously look at it warily. A lot of the people who are here do plan to become lobbyists when they leave. So, I’m well mindful of the fact that people on both the right and the left are not going to like ethics reform legislation. People have tended to get pretty rich while they’re members of Congress. And that’s part of the problem.”