An unlikely pair ready to put a wedge in the revolving door. But could it work?
A pair of polarizing firebrands from opposite ends of the political spectrum have promised to work together to solve a perennial hot-button annoyance of clean government advocates.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agreed last week to collaborate on a bill to shut down the revolving door between Congress and K Street.
But it's unclear the extra attention drawn to the issue from such an odd political couple will jumpstart a legislative campaign that has always stalled in the past. And it's just as unclear a lifetime ban on former members lobbying on Capitol Hill, which the two proposed, could actually work as intended.
Among those who left Congress this year and taken jobs outside of politics, almost 60 percent are already lobbying or involved in work that influences federal policy, according to the watchdog group Public Citizen.
In response, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: "I don't think it should be legal at ALL to become a corporate lobbyist if you've served in Congress."
Cruz then tweeted his agreement, reiterating his previous call for a lifelong ban – and acknowledging a rare moment of harmony with a lawmaker he's excoriated several times on social media for her liberal positions, most recently in favor of doubling the minimum wage.
"If we can agree on a bill with no partisan snuck-in clauses, no poison pills, etc - just a straight, clean ban on members of Congress becoming paid lobbyists - then I'll co-lead the bill with you," Ocasio-Cortez replied. "You're on," came his reply.
A study three years ago by a trio of political scientists found that since the 1970s the number of senators who lobby has gone up by 55 percent and the roster of former House member lobbyists by 40 percent.
That's even though former senators are banned from directly lobbying Congress for two years and former House members for one year. But they are permitted to immediately lobby the executive branch, including administration officials who were once their lawmaking peers. And the Capitol Hill cooling-off period does not say anything about ex-members acting as advisers, consultants or even partners in lobby shops – so long as they don't have direct contact with their onetime colleagues.
It is that significant loophole that would seem to be immune from the sort of legislation Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez are talking about.
Republicans Mike Braun of Indiana and Rick Scott of Florida have proposed Senate legislation to ban ex-lawmakers from lobbying. Republican Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana of a companion bill in the House. Neither bill has any co-sponsors. Neither does a Senate bill by Democrat Jon Tester of Montana that would create a five-year limit on revolving door spinning. That is what Donald Trump proposed as part of his "drain the swamp" agenda in the 2016 campaign, but he has not done anything visible to promote the idea since becoming president.
With the presidency on the ballot in less than a year, fears of another attempt by Russia or other foreign powers to interfere in the election seem to grow with each passing day.
But in the battlegrounds where the outcome will be decided — the 13 states almost certain to be most hotly contested by both parties — election security has been tightening and the opportunities for a successful hacking of American democracy are being greatly reduced, a review of the procedures and equipment on course to be used in each state in November 2020 makes clear.
"There's been a huge amount of progress since 2016," says Elaine Kamarck, an election security expert at the Brookings Institution. James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, says his assessment of the fight against election interference results in feeling "confident that a lot has been done to make it better."
In fact, many who work on the issue now cite the public's perception that our election systems are vulnerable as a problem at least as great as the actual threat.
Along with the candidates and the issues, the 2020 presidential election is also going to be about the voting process itself.
Russian efforts to hack into the voting systems of 2016 have boosted election security to a critical concern this time, prompting states to spend tens of millions buying new equipment, hiring cybersecurity wizards and installing software that warns of intrusions — among numerous other steps. More purchases of hardware, software and expertise are coming in the months ahead.
Whether enough money gets spent, and wisely, won't be known for sure until Nov. 3, 2020 — when the system will be subject to the one test that really matters. And whether the country decides the presidential election result is trustworthy will likely come down to how reliably things work in the relatively small number of states both nominees are contesting.
With 11 months to go, The Fulcrum reviewed information from state elections officials, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Election Assistance Commission and news reports to get a sense of the election security landscape. Here's the state of play in the 13 states likeliest to be presidential battlegrounds.
Gatheru is the outreach manager at American Promise, which advocates for amending the Constitution to permit laws that regulate the raising and spending of campaign funds. She graduated two years ago from the University of Connecticut.
When young Americans come together, we can make a big impact. That's what we've seen throughout history. Alexander Hamilton and Betsy Ross were in their early 20s during the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass was 23 years old when he took the stage at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Alice Paul through her 20s led the fight for the 19th Amendment and women's voting rights.
And that's what we're seeing today in youth-led climate movements around the globe and the movement to end mass shootings here in the United States. But one issue that doesn't get as much attention sits at the root of our modern problems: big money in politics.
Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy. Due to a series of Supreme Court cases, corporations have the same rights as humans, special interests control Capitol Hill and democracy only works for those who can afford it. This is the dystopia my generation has inherited.
The explosion of small-donor political contributions is often celebrated and extolled as one of the few positive developments amid all the problems facing the democracy reform movement.
Not so fast, argues New York University law school professor Richard Pildes. In a new essay published in the Yale Law Journal Forum, he argues the proliferation of modest contributions to candidates may be contributing to more political polarization and, at least, requires more careful examination.
Pildes also says the proposals to promote more small-donor giving that are part of the House Democrats' comprehensive political process overhaul, known as HR 1, could have unintended negative consequences.