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Blog Post | January 4, 2021

A Strong Ethics Pledge Will Pay Political Dividends

2020 Election/TransitionEthics in Government
A Strong Ethics Pledge Will Pay Political Dividends

Overview

At a moment when our country’s divisions seem deeper than ever, there remains one thing on which a consistent majority can agree: corporate America has too much influence over our government. Americans across the political spectrum understand that corporations benefit when people pass in and out of the revolving door between government and the private sector. 

Recent polling from Demand Progress and Data for Progress affirms what many have long understood:

  • On turns into government: 56% of respondents indicated that they believe Biden should not appoint corporate lobbyists or executives to his administration, in contrast to a mere 23% who felt that such figures ought to be appointed.
  • On turns out of government: 75% said that it was a “very” or “somewhat” big problem when an official oversees an industry that they plan to work in as an executive after government service.

If Joe Biden is serious about his promise to unite the country, he can begin by instituting an iron-clad ethics pledge that leaves no doubt about his appointees’ commitment to the public interest. Only by instituting such a standard will Biden be able to combat his opponents’ concerted efforts to divide the country for their own gain. 

The Rightwing Media is Churning; Here’s How to Take Control

Despite having turned a blind eye to the Trump administration’s revolving door, right-wing media will not hesitate to stoke fears of corporate influence in government over the next four years. Fox News’ primetime lineup is pouncing, already launching attacks with gusto: Tucker Carlson has claimed that the presence of corporate-connected figures on the transition means that Biden and Democrats do not represent the working class. Lauren Ingraham has insinuated that Biden’s shadow lobbyist national security picks like Antony Blinken will sell the country out to China. Meanwhile, Breitbart insists that Biden is refilling the swamp after Trump drained it. 

Yes, these barbs are transparently hypocritical. Yes, it doesn’t matter. The fact that these attacks are hypocritical does not undermine their effectiveness — or even necessarily make them untrue. Millions of Americans are worried that their government represents corporate America, not them. Any move that validates that fear will come at a severe political cost (see: January through October 2016). There is no need to re-learn this lesson for the upteenth time (see: here, here, and here).

Biden needs a strong ethics pledge to allay the public’s valid concerns and to go on offense against right-wing attacks. 

Summary: RDP’s Proposed Ethics Pledge 

The Revolving Door Project’s proposed ethics pledge would be the strongest in history and would prohibit appointees from: 

  • Accepting golden parachutes for entering government service;
  • Participating in any matter that would materially affect the interests of a private sector employer for whom they have worked within the last five years;
  • Lobbying for, or providing strategic advice to, private sector companies in business before the appointee’s former agency for a period of five years.

The pledge would also ensure good governance and inoculate against the right’s bad-faith attacks by requiring divestiture from assets that would pose a conflict of interest and a ban on holding individual stocks (a prohibition that mirrors one the Biden team instituted during the campaign). Giving new mandates to the Office of Government Ethics to determine when appointees are too conflicted to serve and to the Presidential Personnel Office not to recommend such conflicted individuals would be historic and politically potent. 

The pledge’s prohibitions on revolving out of government will be doubly important when it comes to individuals who have already been named who would be shut out under this standard. By limiting officials’ ability to immediately return to regulated industries, Biden can quash fears that these figures will govern in corporate America’s interest and contain the political fallout from early revolving door hires. 

Trump administration officials are already walking through the revolving door. If enacted, a strong ethics pledge would set up a favorable comparison to the countless Trump appointees who over the coming months will inevitably announce their turns into regulated industries.

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2020 Election/TransitionEthics in Government
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