Politics

Steny Hoyer Touts Oversight and Ethics Standards as Key to Trust in Government

Eyeing majority, Maryland Democrat and minority whip looks at transparency as winning issue

Hoyer layed out proposals to boost transparency, oversight and to strengthen ethics standards. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Efforts to boost transparency, ethics and oversight are among House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer’s strategies for restoring Americans’ trust in government if Democrats win the House majority for the next congress.

“Our people believe their government is rigged against them. This belief undermines trust in government and impedes our ability to govern,” the Maryland Democrat told a crowd Wednesday.

He highlighted a slate of Democratic bills that he said could be part of a legislative package to kick off a new Democrat-led Congress, including measures on campaign finance, voting rights, ethics and changes to how Congress works.

“If Democrats can fix government, we can earn the trust of voters to lead on addressing health care and infrastructure and the other challenges before us,” he told the group in remarks at an event hosted by End Citizens United Action Fund.

Hoyer said reviving Congress’s role as a check on the executive branch through oversight is a priority.

“Congress has abdicated its role,” he said, “Congress’s persistent failure to properly fulfill this essential constitutional role in recent years is one reason the nation’s politics are out of balance.”

But he stressed that oversight should not be attacks on opposition party entities.

“This will not — and must not — be about playing politics. The aim of these investigations will be to safeguard the public interest and make government work again,” he said.

Hoyer proposed expanded transparency and changes to ethics standards within Congress. He voiced his support for a measure from New York Reps. Tom Reed, a Republican, and Kathleen Rice, a Democrat, to prohibit members of Congress from serving on the boards of publicly held companies.

In response to the indictment of their fellow New Yorker Chris Collins, the pair introduced a measure to create a House version of Senate Rule 37.6(a), which states that no senator “shall serve as an officer or member of the board of any publicly-held or publicly regulated corporation, financial institution, or business entity.”

Hoyer said the resolution is “one immediate change we can make to strengthen ethics standards in Congress.” He said the measure would help prevent the appearance of conflicts of interest.

He’d like members’ financial disclosures to be easier to find for voters and constituents. Every member is required to post their financial disclosures and they are available on the House Clerk’s website.

“Let’s require all Members — as I and some others already do — to link to those disclosures on their official websites,” Hoyer suggested.

He had suggestions for the executive branch, too.

“We need cops on the beat with real subpoena power and the ability to punish those who break the rules,” he said, supporting a measure from Jamie Raskin that would strengthen the Office of Government Ethics. Although OGE is able to identify violations of ethics laws and regulations, it does not have the authority to compel compliance.

Hoyer is still hoping to see President Donald Trump’s tax returns, and would like to require candidates for the executive branch to release them.

“There ought to be a requirement for full financial disclosure, including the most recent five years of tax returns, for the president and vice president. This is essential if citizens can be confident that decisions are being made in the public interest, rather than in the president’s personal interest,” he said.

In addition to changes to standards for elected officials, Hoyer also touted Democratic bills that could be part of a sweeping legislative package at the start of the next session. Those include the Government by the People Act, a campaign finance overhaul measure designed to incentivize small donations; the DISCLOSE Act, a bill to require public disclosure of super PAC donors; the Voting Rights Advancement Act, a measure expanding the federal government’s ability to monitor state election procedures to prevent discrimination; and the Election Security Act, a bill establishing grants for states to secure their voting systems.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report. 

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