Ten Ways to (Actually) Drain the Swamp

Nicholas Connors

July 13, 2020

For the better part of the last two decades, hyper-partisanship and dysfunction have gripped the federal government. The only time when significant policies have been enacted into law is during the brief periods of unified control when one party controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House. But even these periods have been suboptimal, because during these times of single-party control, policy debate is minimal and negotiation takes place only at the margins.

If this dynamic continues so that one-sided government is our only vehicle for problem solving, then we are all in for a very rough ride. Because good governance is best established through debate between honest actors. The process of negotiation is the process of removing the extreme and impractical, and amending the shortsighted––it is key to producing sound solutions.

And none of that has really existed in Washington for almost a generation. Why? There’s a pretty good reason, actually: Our political system is driven by inequitable laws that govern our elections, corrupt rules that regulate the crossroads between money and power, and partisan dictatorial processes that guide the legislative process in Congress.

If we want to change the dynamic of the federal government, we have to reform the political system itself. Here’s how we start.

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(1) Lifetime ban on lobbying for former members of Congress, the president, Senate-confirmed appointees, and all senior staff for said offices.

Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist, told CBS in 2012, “when we would become friendly with an [elected official] I would say… ‘you know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.’ The moment I said that… we owned them.”

“We owned them” is the definition of corruption.

Even if an elected official is not directly engaged by an Abramoff-like figure, everyone knows the game. How one votes and conducts business on the Hill has a huge impact on future job prospects. A rough average of 60 percent of all elected officials and staff transfer to lobbying after Congress, with an average pay increase of more than $2.4 million for congressmen.

Take away that career path and the considerations on how to vote on any given legislation changes overnight––a positive change for the American people.


(2) Prohibit anyone who is paid to lobby the president of the United States or Congress from contributing, bundling contributions, or holding fundraisers for federal candidates or PACs.

Elections are won and lost on fundraising. Not only does a sizable war chest buy things like TV advertisements, but it wards off potential challengers and perpetuates power.

So, if a lobbyist has the ability to hold a fundraiser that will raise $50,000 for an elected official and that lobbyist has a “friendly” chat with staff about an upcoming bill, then everyone knows the score.

In every consideration the question is whether the elected official has more to gain from pleasing a special interest or pleasing a majority of voters. Take away the ability of lobbyists to reward members of Congress and you take a significant step toward giving the influence back to the voters.

Protecting First Amendment rights is of vital importance, but there must be a firewall to stop special interest groups from using campaign donations to buy votes.


(3) Eliminate the loophole that allows former members of Congress to operate as shadow lobbyists.

According to the Lobbying Disclosure Act, to be a lobbyist one must spend “20 percent or more of his or her time in services [of a] client over any three-month period.”


That means a person could work 2.5 weeks straight influencing policy, then do nothing else for the client during the quarter—and not have to register as a lobbyist.

The extent of shadow lobbying is detailed in a 2013 paper by political scientists Tim LaPira and Herschel Thomas. Their key findings? Less than half of all lobbying is reported.

If an individual is advocating to influence public policy in any meaningful way, they should be forced to register as a lobbyist.

(4) Prohibit Congress from all fundraising activities, Monday through Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., while Congress is in session.

Elected leaders spend dozens of hours every week making calls to donors. Former Democratic Congressman Rick Nolan told CBS in 2016 that both the Democratic and Republican parties tell newly elected members to... Continue Reading at the Bulwark.