MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Elizabeth Warren's Anti-Corruption Bill Is a Big Government Mess

In trying to squeeze corporate influence out of politics, Warren would only grow the power of the state.

Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/NewscomMichael Brochstein/Sipa USA/NewscomSen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) picked the best possible day to unveil a sweeping set of proposed reforms to lobbying and ethics standards.

On Tuesday morning—hours before President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of bank and tax fraud charges, and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to tax fraud and campaign finance charges—Warren released the text of her Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, which she offered as a way of truly "draining the swamp," once and for all.

"Let's face it: There's no real question that the Trump era has given us the most nakedly corrupt leadership this nation has seen in our lifetimes," the senator said in a speech at the National Press Club. "But they are not the cause of the rot—they're just the biggest, stinkiest example of it. Corruption is a form of public cancer, and Washington's got it bad."

At 289 pages, the bill is classic Warren in its approach. Like her Accountable Capitalism Act, unveiled last week, this new ball calls for a significant expansion of regulatory power, a slanting of the playing field against interest groups she dislikes, and the creation of a new independent agency to oversee the whole show.

On the regulatory front, her bill would both would "radically expand" the kinds of disclosures lobbyists would have to make, as well as who would have to register as a lobbyist in the first place.

Currently, anyone who is paid more than $3,000 by a single client to make more than one contact with a covered official—say a Congressman or one of his or her staff—for the purposes of influencing policy, and also spends more than 20 percent of their time on "lobbying activities"—all the research and preparation that might go into contacting that covered official—has to register as a lobbyist.

Warren's bill would change the requirement for registering as a lobbyist to include anyone who engages in these "lobbying activities."

Once a person is registered, every single phone call, email, or meeting a registered lobbyist has or exchanges with a covered official would have to be documented and disclosed, including a description of what the contact was about, as well as the names of anyone who might have helped set up the contact or did other "lobbying activity," which could mean something as simple as research or preparation.

Given just how many people could be classified as lobbyists under the above definitions, Warren's bill amounts to a substantial regulatory burden on one's constitutional right to petition the government. It also drastically increases the likelihood that otherwise law-abiding people will violate federal law without intending to.

As is the case with most regulations, Warren's legislation would not overly burden the power players (who can afford to comply) or shady dealers (who will quickly sniff out the loopholes). Instead, it's going to be less moneyed groups and individual citizens most likely to accidentally run afoul of the law, or flat-out refrain from expressing their policy preferences to legislators. This legislation could have a subzero chilling effect on nonprofit advocacy, for example.

Warren's bill would also create a whole new category of "corporate lobbyist"—defined as a lobbyist working for a for-profit company or a trade association—that would come with special restrictions and regulations. The bill would forbid these corporate lobbyists from taking government jobs for six years after stopping their lobbying activities. Non-corporate lobbyists, meanwhile, would only have to wait two years before taking government jobs.

Former federal officials would likewise have to wait six years until being allowed to take up corporate lobbying jobs. Those transitioning to non-corporate lobbying jobs would only have to wait two years.

This kind of complexity will breed some very weird legal innovations that will serve to further obscure the relationships between legislators, bureaucrats, and people outside of government advocating for and against regulations and legislation.

More sweeping still would be legal reforms in Warren's bill—justified as a means of preventing "corporate capture"—that would allow people to sue regulatory agencies for supposed failures to enshrine or enforce regulations, as well as requiring courts to presumptively defer to agency interpretations of laws. Warren would also tax lobbying expenditures to help fund federal regulatory activities.

To top it all off, Warren would create a new U.S. Office of Public Integrity that would operate as an independent agency insulated from congressional or executive oversight. Similar in form to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, this new agency would be tasked with enforcing the myriad new rules, requirements, and regulations in her bill.

It's not all bad, however. Warren's bill includes some sensible reforms, such as a prohibition on elected officials and senior appointees from owning individuals stocks, and a requirement that the president and vice president sell off their assests or otherwise place them in a blind trust (something our current president has so far refused to do.)

Nevertheless, Warren's vision is one of a government that heavily regulates business activity while at the same time strictly limiting the ability of businesses to have a say in the very regulations that affect them. The expectation that firms should just passively accept rules written for them is markedly authoritarian.

So long as the federal government insists on regulating the most minute aspects of private economic activity, businesses will have a legitimate reason to influence those regulations, often in ways that benefit them at the expense of their competitors.

The root of the problem, in other words, is D.C.'s insistence on meddling in the market beyond what is necessary to protect consumers from fraud, theft, and monopoly. Warren's proposed solution will not lead to squeaky clean government of, for, and by the people, but more government power, and consequently, more nuanced and sophisticated efforts by big business to influence how that power is used.

Photo Credit: Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Warren would only grow the power of the state.

    Gee, what a shock. /sarc

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Let's face it: There's no real question that the Trump era has given us the most nakedly corrupt leadership this nation has seen in our lifetimes," the senator said in a speech at the National Press Club

    Wrong.

    The Trump Era is not one iota more corrupt in any way whatsoever that the Clinton or Obama eras'

    For that matter Warren herself is not iota less corrupt than Trump is.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    You're full of shit.

    The Trumptard has had multiple indictments and resignations for graft in the inner cabinet and were not two years in yet.

  • Sevo||

    "Emails reveal how foundation donors got access to Clinton ..."
    https://www.bing.com/search?q=Hilary+clinton+
    sold+political+access+for+donations&qs=n&
    form=QBLH=-1&pq=hilary+clinton+sold+
    political+access+for+donations&sc=0-50
    =&cvid=1108AFF4507846E6BEACB4696DBB12A5

    "Clintons Began Taking White House Property a Year Ago"
    http://articles.latimes.com/
    2001/feb/10/news/mn-23723

    Pure as the driven snow, and you have turd's word on that!

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    So the Clinton's stole some White House towels and bathrobe?

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug|8.23.18 @ 2:08PM|#
    "So the Clinton's stole some White House towels and bathrobe?"

    And sold political access when she was SoS.
    Doesn't that spinning make you dizzy?

  • What's that smell?||

    Much more than that. They were ordered to return several pieces of furniture and equipment. They were also ordered to pay $194,000 for restitution for items stolen that could not be returned.

  • NoVaNick||

    Progs have always operated differently to game the system, so it doesn't count as lobbying or outside influence when they do it.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    Right back at ya, turd.

  • IceTrey||

    Which cabinet member has been indicted for graft?

  • ein esel||

    "The Trumptard has had multiple indictments and resignations for graft in the inner cabinet and were not two years in yet."

    So he won't tolerate that sort of thing, unlike previous administrations, and you think that's bad?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    "The Trumptard has had multiple indictments and resignations for graft in the inner cabinet and were not two years in yet."

    Resignations? Every cabinet has that. In fact, it's good thing. Not everyone works out.

    Indictments? Name them.

    Your such a god,m liar PB. I look forward to a time in the near future where a lot of people like you will be imprisoned or worse.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Lefties are so corrupt that they use the state to suppress indictments.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Nice strawman. She said "nakedly corrupt", and that's the difference. It is in fact how he got elected, because his corruption was right out in the open.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    "Corruption"? He never served in government before now. How was he corrupt as a private businessman? OR do you mean how you just don't like him?

  • Hamster of Doom||

    Britches gets better and better at this.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Interesting that this follows the Vern Buchanan (R) vote that was purchased by a foreign bank.

    If Buchanan were to be jailed for 10 years minimum (with no Trump pardon) this legislation might not be needed.

  • Mithrandir||

    Except Buchanan and BMO didn't do anything that violated the law. Hell, nothing that occurred was even remotely sketchy.

    If you want to say no bank can lend any loan to a politician if they lobby, fine, I disagree with you, but whatever, that's at least a logically consistent position.

    If you aren't saying that, then shut the fuck up.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    He sold his vote to BMO.

    Much moreso than Hil-Dog "sold" meetings with foreign nationals for donations to a charity.

    Now you shut the fuck up.

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug|8.23.18 @ 2:03PM|#
    "He sold his vote to BMO."

    You
    Are
    Full
    Of
    Shit.

  • Mithrandir||

    He sold his vote to BMO.

    No he didn't you fucking goat person. He got a loan at the prevailing market rate for something he could have paid cash for.

    Tell me, is it painful having an IQ lower than your shoe size?

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    There's nothing wrong with using a loan to buy an expensive yacht, but it's fair to raise questions when a member of Congress does so using a loan from a foreign bank that just happens to be lobbying in favor of some major tax legislation. Especially when said member officially makes the purchase on the same day he votes yes on a bill that benefits his lender.

    Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Tax Policy, is accused of doing just that. On November 16, 2017, Buchanan voted in favor of a draft of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. That was the same day he bought a 73-foot Ocean Alexander Yacht, Florida Politics reports, citing a financial disclosure form.

    Reason Magazine

    You're not stupid enough to believe they have a signed contract to buy that vote?

  • Mithrandir||

    There's nothing wrong with using a loan to buy an expensive yacht

    This is correct.

    but it's fair to raise questions when a member of Congress does so using a loan from a foreign bank that just happens to be lobbying in favor of some major tax legislation.

    This is not correct. If you make this argument, you're implicitly making the argument that any bank that lobbies cannot ever lend to a politician, even if they would give the same loan to a non-politician.

    So to continue to have any credibility in this discussion, you need to either make the above argument, prove that the interest rate is below the market rate (it isn't), or go crawl back into whatever hole you crawled out of.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    OK, apply the same logic to Hillary Clinton for your fellow wingnuts.

  • Mithrandir||

    I purposely ignore the political soap opera-like series of events that have followed the Clintons and Trump. Didn't care about the email server, don't care about the hooker, sure as fuck don't care about a politician taking out a legal loan.

  • ein esel||

    He paid the market rate, what's bitching about?

  • DesigNate||

    That Buchanan has an (R) after his name.

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug|8.23.18 @ 2:25PM|#
    "OK, apply the same logic to Hillary Clinton for your fellow wingnuts.

    "Emails reveal how foundation donors got access to Clinton ..."
    https://www.bing.com/search?q=Hilary+clinton+
    sold+political+access+for+donations&qs=n&
    form=QBLH=-1&pq=hilary+clinton+sold+
    political+access+for+donations&sc=0-50
    =&cvid=1108AFF4507846E6BEACB4696DBB12A5
    You
    Are
    Full
    Of
    Shit.

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug|8.23.18 @ 2:13PM|#
    You
    Are
    Full
    Of
    Shit.

  • ||

    He sold his vote to BMO.

    I don't even have to refute it. It's so bold-faced, exemplary, and dumb I kinda want you to write it in crayon on some construction paper so we can use a piece of yarn to tie it around your neck. "Yes, PB. Very good, PB. Yeah, he sold his vote to BMO. Now get your finger out of your nose and put your shoe back on."

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Yet every wingnut and dumb Trump-hick believes Hil-Dog sold influence to foreign nationals.

    Where is the evidence for that?

    (Don't bother - it is another made up bullshit nontroversy from wingnuts)

  • ein esel||

    "LEAVE HILLARY ALONE!!"

    Seriously though, you don't think it's obvious that you only keep bringing her up because it's how you defend yourself when you male stupid attacks on people?

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug|8.23.18 @ 2:20PM|#
    "Yet every wingnut and dumb Trump-hick believes Hil-Dog sold influence to foreign nationals.

    So WaPo is a wingnut and Trump-hick?
    "Emails reveal how foundation donors got access to Clinton ..."
    https://www.bing.com/search?q=Hilary+clinton+
    sold+political+access+for+donations&qs=n&
    form=QBLH=-1&pq=hilary+clinton+sold+
    political+access+for+donations&sc=0-50
    =&cvid=1108AFF4507846E6BEACB4696DBB12A5
    You
    Are
    Full
    Of
    Shit.

  • DesigNate||

    Probably because she did.

    And what a shitty ROI for selling your vote (if I was selling a vote to a bank I'd be getting a 0% interest loan).

  • retiredfire||

    Uranium 1.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    PB, ahoy have no credibility since you're known to be consistently full of shit.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    At 289 pages, the bill is classic Warren [in its] approach.

    Is that a lot? I honestly don't know how big most of the garbage these people put out is. Especially ones that create whole new bureaucracies.

  • Ben of Houston||

    To be frank, for the breadth and scope of this bill, that's darn concise.

  • Bubba Jones||

    You don't need many pages when you delegate it all to a new agency.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    RIP Ed King

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    I just say the Showtime documentary on LS. I had no idea a Californian (King) wrote 'Sweet Home Alabama'.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Not as freaky as finding out Burl Ives wrote Ghost Riders in the Sky.

  • damikesc||

    Why not Reynolds' idea of a massive surtax when going from government to lobbying for the amount above your government pay?

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    This woman is the next US President.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    She's in my top 3 choices, but at this point I still rank Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand ahead of her.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    What about Sarah Palin? She is obviously the most qualified woman as former mayor of Wasilla and half term as Alaska Governor.

    (John told me)

  • ein esel||

    I'll take living in the past for 1000 Alex.

  • DesigNate||

    Horrible human rights violator AG Harris is the perfect candidate as the front person for the new Democrat Party: Authoritarian assholes unite!

  • What's that smell?||

    Doubtful warren could be Pres. In addition to her stolen Native American victimhood, she is such a political tool she often puts her foot in her mouth. Yesterday's CNN interview is a prime example. When asked about "That girl in Iowa" she expressed condolences but could not stop herself from trying to score political points. She had the ideological blindness to imply the Tibbitts family needed to focus on the "Real Problem" of mother and child separation.

    I'm not sure if it is her "slam R's at every opportunity" mindset or a "Blow the Donor Dog whistle at every opportunity" that numbed her to the fact that people immediately, and rightly, concluded that Mrs. Tibbitts and her daughter have been permanently separated.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Good first start Warren if your goal is to create more corruption. Here is an idea CUT SPENDING. The lobbyist will follow suit when they can't get special favors from their favorite Congresscritter.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    That will never happen if she has any say in things. They might gut defense, but look for 2x spending on welfare in place of it should that happen.

  • Real American||

    more govt power = more govt corruption. NO THANKS, YOU DUMB FRONT!

  • MSimon||

    I think you meant c^nt.

  • Jimothy||

    "Front hole" is the new PC term.

  • Gozer the Gozarian||

    Why do people listen to this dumbass? Warren is a few clowns short of a circus.

  • D-Pizzle||

    Because leftists in general are just as ignorant as she is, especially as pertains to economic or financial matters.

  • IceTrey||

    The root of the problem is the government initiating force. The solution is to prohibit it from doing so therefore lobbying would cease to exist.

  • BYODB||

    This is so disgusting from a constitutional point of view that I literally don't even know where to start, so instead I'll just say that Warren proves that she needs to be impeached with these bills. She's too dumb to legislate.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Nevertheless, Warren's vision is one of a government that heavily regulates business activity while at the same time strictly limiting the ability of businesses to have a say in the very regulations that affect them.

    Well, duh! What, you think we have a representative form of government or something? Can't have that! People are just supposed to do what their betters tell them!

  • Hunthjof||

    "Warren's bill would also create a whole new category of "corporate lobbyist"—defined as a lobbyist working for a for-profit company or a trade association—that would come with special restrictions and regulations. The bill would forbid these corporate lobbyists from taking government jobs for six years after stopping their lobbying activities. Non-corporate lobbyists, meanwhile, would only have to wait two years before taking government jobs."

    As expected Warrens labor power base will be immune to this.

  • Rigelsen||

    "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

    Unfortunately, Warren and her ilk see Animal Farm as a how-to guide, not the cautionary tale Orwell intended.

  • Hunthjof||

    You can't be more right. Starting with the CFPB and then her last two bills gives a scary vision of the Government she wants. A bureaucratic state where regulatory agencies can bypass courts and congress to enforce their will. We have seen this already with the CFPB threatening action against financial institutions to force other industries to comply with progressive ideals. Her theory of allowing people more power to sue regulator agencies to force them to "regulate" is basically sue and settle. So if environmental groups can't get legislation passed they will simply sue the EPA and the willing schmucks there will settle. The EPA had stopped that this will make it law.

  • Enemy of the State||

    Warren's nothing more than a 2-bit fascist...

  • Rigelsen||

    It's not all bad, however. Warren's bill includes some sensible reforms, such as a prohibition on elected officials and senior appointees from owning individuals stocks, and a requirement that the president and vice president sell off their assests or otherwise place them in a blind trust...

    It's not all bad? Pray tell exactly where in the Constitution does it allow for Congress to pass laws about managing presidential assets. I'll wait. What, can't find it? Well, fortunately, Hamilton and Madison had more insight and foresight than our current political class.

    The rest of it is pure standard Warren anti-constitutional overreach. What they really need to do is pass a law against Congress-critters proposing laws that clearly violate the constitution.

  • WJack||

    If she was competent, she would be more dangerous than Hillary.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Warren is what the progtards all wish Hillary was.

  • ||

    She knows damn well her plan is to empower the state.

  • Rockabilly||

    It gets her the hottest.

    That's why she wears those red power suits.

    And her face blushes as she thinks about the new regulations she wants, she needs, she desires.

    And before you know it, she's dizzy, and sweaty, and panting, and well, pleasured by these thoughts of regulating.

  • Rockabilly||

    All big government is a mess but it's designed that way.

    Other wise what would graduates of the Kennedy School of Big Government do?

  • Jerry B.||

    "It's not all bad, however. Warren's bill includes some sensible reforms, such as a prohibition on elected officials and senior appointees from owning individuals stocks..."

    Not sure why this is bad. If you can find evidence that elected officials or senior appointees are legislating or rulemaking to improve the value of their stock, indict them. Otherwise it's the same as saying you can't own a car because you might speed.

  • Curly4||

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren is first of all for BIG GOVERNMENT. Nor is she against corruption as long as it is the government that is part of that corruption. Warren is moving more toward the progressive/socialists end of the spectrum along with Bernie Sanders which will wind up with the government not necessarily owning the business but even worse controlling to a greater degree than the Board of Directors ever could. But government has never created any wealth. It only moves if from those who create wealth to those who do not create wealth.
    We have had many examples of governments that have taken over a country that was fairly wealthy and before that government finished with the country and was replaced the country was completely destroyed wealth wise. That is what the American progressives/socialists will do also. Yes, I realize that they think that that their plan will work but non have so far and there is no reason that theirs will work because human nature is the same as with the other socialists governments.

  • BigT||

    Warren is an honorary Venezuelan citizen.....Er, comrade.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Alternatively, you could restrict the role of the federal government to it's absolutely most minimal constitutional role.

    No smart business will invest in a politician that has nothing to sell.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online