President-elect Joe Biden leaves The Queen theater on Tuesday in Wilmington, Del.

President-elect Joe Biden leaves The Queen theater on Tuesday in Wilmington, Del. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Over 170 Groups Call for Biden Administration to Take Up Ethics Reforms Immediately 

President-elect Biden addressed many of their concerns in his campaign platform and transition plan. 

A coalition of over 170 good government, racial justice, voting rights, environmental and other groups released a report on Tuesday outlining immediate actions the incoming Biden administration should take to bolster public disclosures and shore up ethics policies.

The Declaration for American Democracy listed a number of legislative and executive reforms to increase the government’s accountability and transparency in its new report. It specifically advocated for the next Congress to pass and the president to sign the “For The People Act” (known as H.R. 1), the massive democracy reform package that the House passed in March 2019 and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a vote on in October 2019. For the past almost four years, many ethics experts and watchdog groups have been critical of the Trump administration’s corporate influence, connections with the Trump Organization, lack of transparency on information related to policy decisions and efforts to thwart investigations into its activities. The coalition is looking to do a course correction.   

“To restore public faith in our democratic institutions, we must act boldly and comprehensively to ensure everyone has an equal say, no matter where they come from or how much money they have,” said the introduction to the report. “There are many executive actions and appointments the next president can make to set a standard for ethical, accountable government. While [they] would not address many of the reforms set forth in H.R. 1, [they] would set an important ‘tone from the top’ that the next administration is committed to creating an ethical and transparent government.” 

Government watchdog groups such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Project on Government Oversight and American Oversight are among the diverse members of the coalition. Some of the actions it recommended President-elect Biden take include: 

  • Mandating that visitor logs are kept and made public for meetings at the White House and anywhere else the president does business; 
  • Subjecting outside advisers to the same ethics requirements as federal employees;  
  • Directing the White House Counsel’s Office and Office of Government Ethics to have greater disclosures of ethics-related documents regarding political appointees; 
  • Releasing a public explanation if the president doesn’t follow recommendations from the Office of Special Counsel regarding Hatch Act violations and suggested firings;
  • Issuing an executive order to require federal contractors (individuals and companies) to disclose their political contributions from the two years before they submitted a bid for a federal contact; and,
  • Hosting an annual Cabinet-leaving meeting to discuss ethics reforms at the agencies. 

Regardless of which party ends up controlling the Senate (which will be determined by two run-off races in Georgia in January and, thus, will decide if Biden will face a divided Congress), the Declaration for American Democracy stated that Biden could do many things to improve transparency and accountability in government. 

Biden has already addressed many of these initiatives on his campaign website and in his transition ethics plan. The most recent transition law requires candidates to submit such plans by October 1 of a presidential election year. The Biden-Harris plan has strict requirements for current or former lobbyists working on the transition, some of which go further than what Trump and Obama had in place, Politico noted

“President-elect Biden has made clear he wants a clean break from the corruption of the Trump administration and what we’ve seen so far is a good down payment for that,” Jana Morgan, director of Declaration for American Democracy, said in a statement to Government Executive on Wednesday. “We look forward to working with them on implementing comprehensive democracy proposals, both through the executive branch and Congress.”