Members of Congress are now home for their August break with the health care fight still ringing in their ears. A new survey of senior congressional staff shows a widespread belief that things aren’t going great, so it’s likely a relief for many to be taking a break from Capitol Hill. But if Capitol Hill has been quiet, the rest of the country hasn’t been, and we’re back again with your weekly rundown of the nation’s top corruption stories.
Drafting Laws in the Shadows
Several lawsuits allege the president’s policy advisory committees are violating federal transparency requirements.
Remember that classic Springsteen song, “Drafting in the Dark”? Since taking office, President Donald Trump has convened several advisory groups to study and draft policy on issues ranging from alleged voting fraud to infrastructure redevelopment. As McClatchy DC reports, these committees are often full of industry leaders and devoid of real transparency, flying in the face of federal law. Legally, these groups are required to publicize their meeting times and open sessions to the public, release member lists, and publish minutes. Some, like the Superfund Task Force, which the Environmental Protection Agency convened to address toxic waste cleanup, have both remained in the shadows and drafted recommendations that would later serve as the basis for official directives. Of course, these committees aren’t new. Past administrations – both Democrat and Republican – created hundreds of policy advisory groups. What is new is the increasing lack of transparency.
The bottom line: Getting input from multiple sources is a good thing, but public policy needs to be public-facing.
Gerrymandering isn’t Set in Stone, as Other Nations Prove
Experts look abroad for guidance on fixing the country’s broken redistricting system.
It’s easy to become dismayed in considering the state of American politics. Gerrymandering, the process by which legislative districts are carved up to provide an unfair advantage for one group or another, can seem like a problem with no solution. Not so, a Washington Post story argues. In advance of the Supreme Court taking up Gill v. Whitford, a monumental case grappling with constitutionality of gerrymandering designed to benefit a political party, two academics took a look at how other countries redraw their representative districts. They conclude there are a number of potential reforms available elsewhere, including multi-member districts, non-political redistricting authorities and stricter oversight.
The bottom line: The old adage about not letting the fox guard the henhouse rings true: politicians shouldn’t be the ones picking their voters. Redistricting reform is the key to getting fair representation.
A Trio of Transportation Officials Asked to Cut Regulations for Past Industries
Forty percent of deregulators in the executive branch previously worked in the industries their agencies oversee.
As a former real estate tycoon and entertainment personality, President Donald Trump has made eliminating regulations on businesses a priority for his administration. Not everyone tapped for the job is going in impartially, though. In a new story, ProPublica and the New York Times found three members of the deregulation team at the Department of Transportation have substantial connections to the industries the department is tasked with overseeing. Two of the employees previously worked for airlines, including one who served as a regulatory affairs director at United Airlines and also worked in the Obama administration. The other team member comes from the automobile industry. The three have declared they will not consider matters that would directly affect past employers. Across the administration, 34 people tasked with deregulation grapple with these possible conflicts of interest, including a handful of former lobbyists.
The bottom line: Conflicts of interest, like ones faced by the deregulators above, pose a serious threat to accountable policy-making.
Buyer Beware: Donor Wants to Know Why His Donations Didn’t Get a Win
A donor is suing the Republican party for fraud and racketeering after efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare fell short.
This isn’t something you see everyday: a Virginia man has filed a lawsuit against the national and state GOP for failing to deliver on promises to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. The suit alleges the party has raised money for years on a pledge to repeal the law, and in their failure to do so, has intentionally defrauded donors everywhere. He’s not the only one upset about unkept promises regarding Obamacare. In fact, donors have backed out on more than $2 million in pledged donations to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, complaining of the party’s inability to repeal the law.
The bottom line: We often talk about donors using political contributions to buy politicians and policies, but the perceived quid pro quo is almost never made this clear.
Corruption Gets Its Day(s) in Court
Courts will consider cases this fall surrounding President Trump’s alleged emoluments clause violations and Sen. Menendez’s corruption charges
Get out your steno pads, everyone. This week, judges in two high-profile cases announced they would hear corruption-related charges this fall concerning President Donald Trump and Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. The case against the president is rooted in a claim that Trump violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments to his real estate holdings around the world, which public officials are banned from doing. Oral arguments are scheduled for October 18. Sen. Menendez’s legal team, on the other hand, sought to use a recent Supreme Court decision to get charges dropped surrounding allegations that the senator had traded acts meant to benefit a Florida optometrist in exchange for vacations and campaign contributions. The judge decided to allow the case to proceed and the trial will start on September 6.
The bottom line: You can’t have effective anti-corruption laws without the courts. These trials will more than likely provide us with answers about what is and isn’t considered corruption at the federal level.
That’s it for this week. Please send any corruption stories you’d like to see featured in next week’s installment to firstname.lastname@example.org.