It is not a coincidence that our representatives are less trusted than ever before in American history. It is not a conspiracy theory to recognize the cabal of Washington elites and corporate figures with greater and greater power over our society. It is not unreasonable to detest the disconnect between working Americans and politicians who sit comfortably under zero accountability.
A public’s trust in its government is vital, and the only way to restore that trust is to ensure the government is deeply ingrained within the community, not within the jungle of shifting corporate agents and dealings.
Closing the Revolving Door
The revolving door of Washington is a constantly cycling exchange of politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists, who swap positions and careers using the insider connections and relationships they built behind closed doors, outside of public view. A congressman may use his insider awareness of both Washington and private industries to join the private sector, lobbying the representatives he once called colleagues. This is a pernicious system that builds unethical relationships between those who are tasked with representing public interests and those tasked with representing private interests. And while the occurrence of this revolving door sounds specific and unique, nearly 1 in 5 of Washington’s 800 lobbyists worked in prior government positions.
While individual states may hold “cool-down” periods which bar a former congressman from taking a lobbying position for X number of years, these performative regulations are insufficient. We must pass a national shut of the revolving door, banning all public representatives from ever holding any lobbying position following their exit from public service.
Ending Special Privileges and Special Relationships
President Jimmy Carter famously sold off his humble peanut farm before taking the office of the presidency, in order to eliminate any possibility of a conflict of interest. Unfortunately, the political norm has been strung far from this benchmark of accountability that was once common-place amongst many of our representatives. Today, 284 congressmen, across both sides of the partisan aisle, own stocks in various corporations and industries. When these same politicians are freely given the responsibility of overseeing and regulating those very private entities, the public becomes victims to a conflict of interest spanning across our entire Federal government.
It is simple: no government official capable of enacting regulation (or choosing not to) of any private industry should be able to hold a stake within that industry. Conflicts of interests have routinely been recorded, with countless representatives holding investment portfolios that could be directly affected by their own votes on the committees they serve within.
Furthermore, this lack of accountability creates a malign incentive for public service. Our system directly encourages bad “actors” with ill-intent to enter Washington, under the correct assumption that they can use their post (and the benefits of insider information) to line their own pockets, while neglecting the needs of their district and constituency.
Half-measured attempts have already been made to remediate the issue, to little success. The STOCK Act of 2012 mandated public disclosure for trades made by representatives, and banned insider, nonpublic information from being used for any investment decision. However, as expected, the legislation was frequently violated with minimal consequence.
While many policy challenges require a complex and nuanced approach, demanding a close examination of all possible impacts, this is not one of those challenges. When it comes to government accountability, there should be no further discussion beyond a collective agreement to ban any elected official from holding any investment in private entities.