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O’Halleran Leads Package of Bills Targeting Ethics, Transparency in Congress 

March 18, 2022 by Reece Nations
O’Halleran Leads Package of Bills Targeting Ethics, Transparency in Congress 
Rep. Tom O'Halleran

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., introduced five bills on Thursday as part of a package aimed at curbing ethical breaches by lawmakers and restoring public trust in Congress. 

The bills take several courses of action to prohibit unethical behavior and strengthen existing rules dictating how congressional funds can be spent. While some of the bills are entirely new, several of them have been reintroduced after failing to pass in previous legislative sessions.

Findings by Gallup published in October 2021 suggest Americans’ trust in the federal government and its agencies has significantly decreased over the years and sits near an all-time low. Around 44% of adults surveyed by Gallup said they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in people who hold or are running for public office, an amount that was barely higher than the all-time low of 42% recorded by Gallup in 2016. 

“Over the last several years, hardworking taxpayers have seen their earned dollars wasted at every echelon of their government and their needs cast aside in favor of political games and cable news coverage,” O’Halleran said in a written statement. “Since coming to Congress in 2017, I’ve made ethics and accountability one of my top priorities, and with the re-introduction of my package of ethics bills today, I hope to hold myself and all members — regardless of party — accountable to those we were elected to represent.”

The bills introduced in the House by O’Halleran on Thursday were: 

  • The Clean Legislating and Ethical Accountability Now Act. 
  • The No Ongoing Perks Enrichment Act. 
  • The Taxpayers Don’t Incur Meaningless Expenses Act. 
  • The No Outbound Flights for Lawmakers If Government Halts to a Stop Act. 
  • The Closing Loopholes, Ending Anonymous Revolving Doors Act. 

The CLEAN Act, previously introduced during the 115th and 116th congressional sessions, would make permanent the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. This office is composed of nonmembers of Congress and is tasked with reviewing congressional ethics charges, investigating them and issuing reports with recommendations to the House Committee on Ethics.

Currently, the office is required to be renewed every legislative session and was established in March 2008. Gregg Murray, professor of political science in the Department of Social Sciences at Augusta University, told The Well News the office has a unique capacity to hold lawmakers accountable through a nonpartisan process.

“Members of Congress and political elites — they often try to position themselves as being of the people, but in reality they enjoy a lot of perks of elites,” Murray said. “And it kind of creates a hypocritical situation in some cases — not all of them, certainly — but it certainly creates some problems in that regard.”

O’Halleran’s legislation to make the office permanent would severely kneecap partisan attempts to eliminate the office from its oversight position. From his perspective, Murray said establishing the office in the first place while forcing it to be renewed every two years was intended for lawmakers to keep a tight rein on what it does.

The NOPE Act would prohibit first-class flights for congressional members and their staff while increasing the lobbying ban for former lawmakers and staff from two years to five years.  

Currently, members of Congress can use federal allocations of taxpayer dollars to hire staff and operate their offices, including paying for travel expenditures.

“It’s kind of an interesting situation in that if a member of Congress books a first-class flight, they’re reducing their available funds for other expenditures by more than if they buy a regular, economy class [ticket],” Murray told The Well News. “So, it’s kind of a bad look. But, you know, it’s kind of a decision they make on allocating their resources.”

Similarly, the Taxpayers DIME Act would ensure no taxpayer funds are spent on government air travel that violates the rules that apply to senior federal officials. If enacted, the bill would also require the OCE to research and detail courses of action to strengthen existing rules concerning government air travel.

In addition to the bill that extends the lobbying ban for former members of Congress, O’Halleran’s newly introduced CLEAR Doors Act would require individuals who formerly worked for a federal agency to disclose any contact with their former agency employer within 48 hours. Further, the bill would also expand the definition of a registered lobbyist to include any person who engages in an open proceeding or rule-making at their former agency.

“It’s quite regular for people to go from Congress to some agency that they were involved with, or some lobbying firm, or whatever. That’s quite common,” Murray said. “I think a lot of folks see it as a perk of being a member of Congress.”

“Of course, the concern is that as politicians get closer to the end of their political career[s] … they’re making sure to vote in ways that give the lobbyists or whomever a favorable impression of them,” Murray continued. “I think it’s a realistic concern regarding this ‘revolving door’ issue. I think it’s a true issue.”

Another bill in O’Halleran’s ethics package would require the speaker of the House to hold a session in the chamber every day during a shutdown, including partial shutdowns like the one experienced in 2019. The No FLIGHTS Act would also forbid official funds from being used for lawmakers to travel during any shutdown, thereby forcing them to remain in Washington until the shutdown has concluded.

One of the most basic functions of a government is its ability to pass a budget, Murray said, and an inability to do so is a good sign of political dysfunction. Consequently, it should be reasonable to put forth legislation that undermines the ability of lawmakers to shirk responsibility.

“Anything you can do to raise the cost of the government shutting down, and anything you can do to raise the cost of members of Congress not doing their job[s] … I think anything that does that is good,” Murray said. “I think it’s an interesting idea. It would be helpful, in my opinion. I think it’s really interesting to consider and to possibly be pursued.”

Reece can be reached at reece@thewellnews.com

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