Statement of Sen. Sanders Regarding His Amendment to S. 1, The Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007

Mr. President, let me begin by begin by applauding Senator Reid and Senator McConnell and all of those responsible for advancing this important ethics reform bill. There is no question but that the confidence of the American people in the Congress is now at an almost all-time low. There is no question that there have been ethical abuses in Congress in recent years. And there is no question but

Mr. President, let me begin by begin by applauding Senator Reid and Senator McConnell and all of those responsible for advancing this important ethics reform bill. There is no question but that the confidence of the American people in the Congress is now at an almost all-time low. There is no question that there have been ethical abuses in Congress in recent years. And there is no question but that we should support the strongest ethics reform possible.Members of Congress do not need free lunches from lobbyists. Members of Congress do not need free tickets to ballgames. And they do not need huge discounts for flights on corporate jets. Congress does need transparency in earmarks and holds and we do need a new policy regarding the revolving door by which a member writes legislation one year and finds him or herself employed by a company that may have benefited from that legislation the following year.In other words, we need to pass the strongest ethics reform bill possible. But, Mr. President, in passing this legislation we need to understand that this is not the end of our work; it is just the beginning and much, much more needs to be done.Mr. President, today in the United States of America the middle class is shrinking, poverty is increasing and the gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider. Meanwhile, the people at the top economically have never had it so good. The sad truth is that Congress, especially over the last six years, has not only failed to respond to this crisis, but in many ways Congress has made the situation even worse. Time and time again, the Congress has chosen to ignore the needs of ordinary Americans and instead acted in the interest of wealthy and powerful special interests. In fact, much of the legislation that has come to the floor of the House and Senate in recent years has come at the behest of multibillion dollar corporate interests. This has included a Medicare Part D prescription drug program that, while costing the taxpayers of this country a huge amount of money, provides a relatively weak benefit to our seniors. Included in that bill is a huge donut hole which forces seniors to pay 100% of the cost out of pocket and a provision forbidding the government from negotiating with the drug companies for lower prices for American consumers. Meanwhile, despite strong majority support in the House and the Senate, Congress has failed to pass legislation - widely supported by the American public - that would allow for the reimportation of safe, affordable prescription drugs from well-regulated countries like Canada and that would provide huge discounts to Americans of all ages. At the same time, when there is more and more concern about the danger of global warming to our planet, Congress has failed to adequately fund energy efficiency and sustainable energy programs but somehow Congress did manage to fund an energy bill that included huge tax giveaways to big oil and other energy interests. Mr. President, most American workers now know that our current trade polices have failed - and failed miserably. During the last five years, we have lost some 3 million good-paying manufacturing jobs and we are now on the cusp of losing millions of white collar, information technology jobs. And yet, despite a $700 billion trade deficit and the loss of all these high paying jobs, Congress refuses to make the fundamental changes in trade policy that are desperately needed. Mr. President, I know that some people like to talk about "special interests" but in truth the problem is "corporate and moneyed interests" - those individuals and entities that can afford the extremely expensive lobbying campaigns that crop up when legislation of interest to corporate America is being considered by the Congress. Let me be very clear. I do not consider the tens of millions of working people in this country who are struggling to keep their heads above water economically a "special interest." I do not consider the 18% of our children who live in poverty, the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world, a "special interest." I do not consider senior citizens who are trying to live out their retirements with economic security and dignity a "special interest." The challenge we face is to rein the influence and power that lobbyists and their large corporate clients have over the Congress. The lobbying reform legislation that we are considering is a very important step in that direction. And I do want to thank Senator Reid, and Senators Feinstein and Lieberman, as well as Senators Feingold and Obama, and all of those who have worked on this issue, for their leadership on lobbying reform so we can begin to restore Americans' confidence in the Congress.But we must keep in mind that while we are eliminating the $20 lunches and the club level tickets to local sporting events, this bill does not address what is an even more pressing issue, namely the $10,000 campaign contributions that come from corporate PACs.We have a fundamental problem which literally threatens our democratic form of government and this is that Senators and challengers are forced to raise millions and millions of dollars to run a winning campaign. In terms of campaign contributions, let us be clear. Despite what anyone may have heard, corporate interests are king. They run the show. For example, from 1998 to 2005, drug companies spent more on lobbying than any other industry -- $900 million - according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. They donated a total of $89.9 million in the same period to federal candidates and party committees.We hear a lot about labor money and Big Labor, but, in fact, corporate interests give well more than 10 times as much money to candidates than do labor unions. In the 2006 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Labor, gave less than $50 million, while corporate interests gave well over $525 million. That disparity may well explain why the needs of working Americans all too often take a back seat to corporate interests in the Congress. But more importantly that tells us why we need real campaign finance reform so that the needs of all Americans are heard rather than just those who make these kinds of contributions. To strengthen the public's faith in Congress, we need reforms on a number of fronts. We certainly need to pass this lobbying reform bill but we also need very strong campaign finance reform - and my own view is that we need to move toward public funding of elections. We also need media reform to stem the growing concentration of ownership among television, radio and newspaper companies with the result that what Americans see, hear and read is increasingly controlled by fewer and fewer media conglomerates. Most importantly, we need a revival of grass-roots democracy that pressures Washington to represent the needs of the middle class and working families of our country, and not just the wealthy corporate interests. I understand that the legislation before us relates only to the issues around lobbying reform and that many of the other critical issues I have laid out will be considered at a later time. That's why I have offered the amendment we have before us today.This amendment will provide this body with some of the information it will need when we address campaign finance reform at a later date. Specifically, this amendment requires the Commission to Strengthen Confidence in Congress, created by the underlying legislation, to report on the aggregate amount of campaign contributions given by certain identified corporate interests 24 months prior to and within 6 months after the passage of four specified pieces of legislation. These four pieces of legislation are the Medicare Part D program, the Bankruptcy Reform bill, the Energy bill and the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The goal of this report is to begin to throw some light on the volume of corporate contributions that are showered on Congress when legislation important to companies comes before the Congress. As a result, this report will focus on the amounts given and the identity of the givers. In closing, Mr. President, let me just say that it is our obligation to return control of the Congress back to the American people. I look forward to helping make that happen with the ethics reform legislation we are now considering and the many, many other equally critical reforms that voters across this great nation told us they wanted this past November. To view the press release click here.