We often hear from consumers who say we should keep politics out of our consumer news coverage. That would be fine if politics didn't influence just about every aspect of consumers' lives.
But it does and also, as consumers, we're also citizens with a stake in government. So sometimes it's a good idea to ignore the acts going on in the Big Tent of the American political circus and take a look at what's going on iin some of the smaller side rings.
That's often not a very attractive site but last week, lawmakers from both parties came together in an atmosphere of comity and mutual respect and unanimously passed a bill labeled the “Clean Up the Government Act” (H.R. 2572). Authored by U.S. Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Mike Quigley (IL-05), the measure contains much-needed reforms to provide the Department of Justice with the tools necessary to prosecute public corruption.
The measure is simple enough; it requires public officials to disclose potential conflicts of interest and prohibits them from using their elected positions for personal gain.
“For me, this bill is personal," Quigley said. "When four of Illinois’ last eight governors have gone to prison on corruption charges, and two of my own predecessors have been convicted for the same, enough is enough.”
Rep. Quigley's 5th Congressional District was previously represented by Rod Blagojevich and Dan Rostenkowski.
“Americans’ faith in government is at an all time low, and until we restore the public’s trust, we can’t lead or make the tough choices necessary to move forward. This legislation will help ensure that the work conducted by elected officials benefits the taxpayers, not themselves,” Quigley said.
The bill targets public officials who exploit their positions and influence to obtain benefit from an undisclosed financial interest in a matter. The Clean Up Government Act addresses these issues, as well as those of public officials who accept gratuities simply because of their official position, and amends the definition of “official act” to include conduct that falls within the range of official duties of the public official.
The bill includes a number of other vital tools to fight public corruption, namely, a provision to prevent public officials from receiving gifts because of their positions and a provision that makes clear that government officials who accept private compensation for using the powers their jobs afford them may be subject to prosecution. The complete text is available online.
Nearly identical legislation (S.401) sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) has already passed out of committee in the Senate.
An untiring supporter of the bill -- and of other anti-corruption measures -- is a non-profit advocacy group called CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. CREW provided this edited version of last week's committee session: