Bipartisan Task Force Unveils Proposals to Strengthen Government Ethics, Rule of Law

October 2, 2018

The National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy – a group of former public servants and policy experts housed at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law – today laid out a vision for strengthening government ethics and the rule of law. Their first report includes specific proposals, such as requiring presidential candidates to disclose tax returns and creating a stronger enforcement mechanism for ethical breaches. The report was launched today at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
 
The Task Force, chaired by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, outlines these proposals as part of an effort to turn what have traditionally been unwritten rules and norms of government behavior into commonsense, bipartisan laws.
 
“We’re focused not on the current political moment, but on the future of our democracy,” said Whitman, who also served as EPA Administrator in the George W. Bush administration. “As in other moments throughout American history, we’re at an inflection point. We cannot ignore the erosion of standards and norms that have historically guided political behavior and prevented abuse of power. It is time to reassure the public that we can come together across political lines with solutions to usher in a new era of transparency, openness, and liberty. We hope these proposals provide a roadmap to do just that.”
 
“If we don’t act now to bolster government ethics and the rule of law, we risk losing essential guardrails of our democracy,” said Bharara. “Together, as Republicans, Democrats, and independents, we’re asking Congress to turn soft norms into hard laws—requiring disclosure of tax returns, increasing protections for the special counsel, and making permanent historically-recognized boundaries between the White House and law enforcement officials. It’s not the end of the conversation, but hopefully the beginning of an earnest effort in the next Congress to restore public trust in government.”
 
The first Task Force report focuses on ethics and the independence of law enforcement. Among the proposals laid out in the report:

  • Require candidates for president and vice president to release personal and business tax returns
  • Modernize financial disclosure rules to prevent self-dealing and corruption
  • Empower the watchdog Office of Government Ethics to better enforce ethics laws
  • Extend conflict of interest rules to the president and vice president
  • Shield special counsels from arbitrary firing

Established earlier this year, the Task Force’s mission is to take up the American tradition of revisiting the standards of political behavior following demonstrated abuse, and to propose solutions for restoring public trust and confidence in government. In addition to ethics and law enforcement, the Task Force will in the coming months analyze other areas in need of reform, including money in politics, the use of government research and data, and the appointment of qualified public officials.
 
In addition to Whitman and Bharara, the Task Force membership includes Mike Castle, partner at DLA Piper and former Delaware governor and member of Congress; Christopher Edley, Distinguished Professor at the U.C. Berkeley School of Law and former senior White House aide; Chuck Hagel, former Secretary of Defense and U.S. Senator from Nebraska; David Iglesias, Director of the Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics and Economics and former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico; Amy Comstock Rick, President and CEO of the Food and Drug Law Institute and former Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics; and Donald Verrilli, partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP and former Solicitor General of the United States. For more information on the Task Force, visit www.democracytaskforce.org. And for more on the Brennan Center, visit www.brennancenter.org.
 
Members of the Task Force are available for interviews. For more information, contact Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu or Stephen Fee at stephen.fee@nyu.edu.
 

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