A Step Toward True Reform

Common Cause joined the rest of the reform community in applauding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for staying true to her word and winning passage of a strong set of new ethics rules dealing with gifts, meals, travel, use of corporate jets and earmarks. We also commend the House members  -- all but one -- who voted to support the tougher rules. Now the House needs to take the next step and establish an independent ethics commission to assure the new limits are enforced. Speaker Pelosi has started the ball rolling on that. She is establishing a bi-partisan task force to study the possibilities for creating such a commission, and it is due to report back to the House in mid-March.

We hope this is not a stall tactic, and that this task force will consider a range of ideas and seek advice from sources outside Congress, such as scholars, ethics experts and watchdog groups. The task force could get a lot of good ideas just by looking to the states, where more than two dozen states have outside ethics commissions with varying degrees of independence to enforce rules, monitor conduct and behavior of elected officials and provide oversight.

Ultimately, however, the solution to breaking the excessively dependent relationships between members of Congress and the lobbyists and special interests who fuel their campaigns and political careers is the public financing of congressional campaigns. Look for Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. John Tierney to introduce public financing legislation in each of their chambers this winter. Using public money – around $6 per household per year – levels the playing field and gives people from different backgrounds a fair shot at getting elected. And it frees up elected officials to focus on public policy, like health care that works for all Americans.

The House has started with a solid step in the right direction. We hope the Senate follows suit, and both chambers keep going toward true reform.