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This Bill Would Combat the Erosion of Government Ethics

Brennan Center’s Mehrbani testifies on Capitol Hill in support of the For the People Act’s ethics reforms.

February 6, 2019

Amid mounting concerns over government ethics and transparency, Brennan Center lawyer and former White House personnel director Rudy Mehrbani told members of Congress Wednesday that the country needs new laws to ensure accountability.

Mehrbani, Spitzer fellow and senior counsel at the Brennan Center, testified in a House Oversight and Reform hearing on H.R. 1, or the For the People Act, which includes provisions such as requiring disclosure of presidential tax returns and tightening restrictions on congressional conflicts of interest. The sweeping voting rights and anti-corruption bill, which was first introduced on January 3, marks the first time in decades that either major political party has made comprehensive democracy reform a central priority.

“We have long assumed that all presidential administrations would follow longstanding ethics practices and ideals that aren’t required by law,” said Mehrbani. “Unfortunately, these commonsense practices that presidents from both parties followed for decades can no longer be taken for granted. This means that new laws are needed to compel a commitment to ethics and ensure accountability.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee chair, also made a stirring case for tackling voter suppression, another key plank of the H.R. 1 bill that the Brennan Center supports. “Voting is crucial,” Cummings said during Wednesday’s hearing. “And I don’t give a damn how you look at it. There are efforts to stop people from voting. That’s not right.”

The Brennan Center’s Mehrbani submitted written testimony in support of the Act in advance of Wednesday’s hearing. He argues that:

  • We can no longer assume that presidents will adhere to the norms and ethics practices followed by past administrations;
  • Legislative reform is needed to fill those ethics gaps and to hold political leaders accountable;
  • Strong ethics rules would support the goals of the political appointments process; and
  • Congress should support the ethics reforms outlined in the For the People Act.

In response to the Trump administration’s conflicts of interest and ethical lapses, the Brennan Center published Strengthening Presidential Ethics Law in December 2017. The report puts forward the steps that Congress can take to address the gaps in the U.S. federal ethics system. Additionally, the Brennan Center’s National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy published an October 2018 report that outlines proposals for strengthening government ethics and the rule of law.

(Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty)