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Rejected Sac Bee Opinion Essay 6

Submitted Jan. 16, 2020

Post-Trump, what should reform look like?
Who should guide it?

By Jeff Burdick

In the wake of Watergate, the U.S. Congress in the mid-1970s passed a raft of reforms to avoid a repeat of the many high crimes and misdemeanors of the Nixon-Agnew years. Political slush funds were banned. The first special prosecutor law passed. Campaign donation limits were established, and Congress set up a new financial disclosure system for federal office holders.

Flash forward 45 years. Once the Trump Administration ends, Congress must set again to enacting a new round of reform laws. The goal must be to close all loopholes exploited by Trump and others, and refortify our weakened elections and federal institutions. This includes:

  • Full financial disclosure by all general election presidential candidates.

  • Before inauguration, requiring any President to have placed all financial assets into a full blind trust and irrevocably sell/transfer any personally owned businesses.

  • Criminalize foreign involvement in U.S. elections, including the solicitation of international assistance by any candidate, campaign staffer or volunteer.

  • Clarify and limit the Executive Branch’s ability to re-direct budgeted funds and resist basic Congressional subpoenas of executive branch witnesses and documents.

  • Re-establish a special prosecutor law that is free from Justice Department control, but with appropriate curbs to prevent endless investigations.

  • Negate the Justice Department memo that precludes indictment of a sitting president.

This list could be much longer – including reforms of Congress – but let me add just one more: passing a non-partisan Election Reform Constitutional Amendment for state ratification. This would finally fix many flaws in our elections that the U.S. Supreme Court has either refused to address or has made worse through rulings like the 2010 Citizens United ruling that opened the dark-money flood gates.

I have proposed such an amendment. My proposed 28th Amendment includes major campaign finance reform, overturning Citizens United, ending gerrymandering ending corporate personhood and shortening our elections. All of these elements are overwhelmingly supported by voters across the political spectrum and would restore average voters again to a central role in our democracy.

A key provision of my amendment is to apply the same fundraising pledge of my current Congressional campaign to all federal candidates. This would limit federal candidates to accepting financial and in-kind donations from only voters eligible to vote for them. In other words, Congressional candidates could raise only from voters inside their House district, Senate candidates from just state residents, and Presidential candidates from only U.S. citizens.

This means no donations from any corporation, PAC, union or individual living outside the candidate’s voting area. This would remove about 80% of the money from our ridiculously expensive federal campaigns and allow credible runs from more candidates who are more interested in public service than telemarketing.

But just as important as “what” reforms are needed is “who” we should entrust to enact them. Once Trump departs the scene, we should expect a small window to make these reforms. Thus, it is critical to elect as many earnest, good-government candidates to lead and pressure Congress to pass the full menu of fixes.  

 

This makes this year’s primary and general elections incredibly important. We just can’t risk hoping for true reform from the same ethically suspect politicians who helped create the perfect-storm conditions that enabled Trump to rise and ravage our democracy.

This puts it all on us voters to elect those good stewards. As Ben Franklin once said, we have “a Republic, if we can keep it.”

So let’s get to work keeping it starting with the March 3rd primary here in California.

Arden-Arcade resident Jeff Burdick is a Progressive Democrat running for the U.S. House. See BurdickForCongress.com. Contact jeff@BurdickForCongress.com.