September 03, 2010

With Support Of Government Reform Advocates, Gillibrand Calls On Senate Majority Leader Reid To Bring Her Earmark Transparency Bill For A Vote, Make Congress More Accountable To Western New York Families

Key Senate Committee Passed Gillibrand’s Earmark Transparency Bill with Bipartisan Vote in July

Buffalo, NY – Tired of business as usual in Washington D.C., U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today at the Frank E. Merriweather, Jr. Library announced a new effort to make Congress more transparent and accountable, urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring her legislation that makes the federal earmark process fully transparent up for a vote on the Senate floor. With the support of Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation, Senator Gillibrand made her official pitch in a letter to the Senate Majority Leader to pass her bill that is co-sponsored by 17 Republican and 10 Democratic Senators.

On a bipartisan vote of 11-5, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee last month passed the legislation that Senator Gillibrand wrote with Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) to require all lawmakers to post their earmark requests online.

“I haven’t been in Washington long, but it doesn’t take long to know exactly what’s wrong with it,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Everyday people are not being heard because too much business is happening behind closed doors. Too often the system only benefits the special interests that have way too much power. My agenda puts the interests of families before all else by making government more transparent and accountable. My reform agenda ends automatic pay raises for members of Congress, reins in special interest influence on our elections, forbids Senators from anonymously obstructing legislation, and makes the federal funding request process fully transparent so citizens can judge for themselves how politicians are spending their money.”

In addition to calling for a vote on her earmark transparency legislation, Senator Gillibrand renewed her call to move forward on her full agenda to make Congress more accountable.

THE GILLIBRAND REFORM AGENDA TO CLEAN UP WASHINGTON

1. Make Federal Earmark Requests Fully Transparent

Senator was the first Member of Congress to post all of her federal funding requests, official daily schedule and personal financial disclosure on her own website. Senate and House rules now require members to post federal funding requests. Senator Gillibrand’s federal funding requests, daily public schedule and personal financial disclosure are all available here.

 

Senator Gillibrand’s Earmark Transparency Act creates an easily searchable database of all federal earmarks, both authorizing and appropriating.  The database will include the following information about each federal funding request:

  • Amount of initial request made by requestor;
  • Amount approved by the Committee of jurisdiction;
  • Amount approved in final legislation (if approved);
  • Type of organization receiving the request (public, private non-profit, or private for-profit entity);
  • Project name, description and estimated completion date;
  • Justification explaining how Congressionally directed spending item would benefit taxpayers;
  • Description, if applicable, of all non-federal sources of funding for the Congressionally directed spending item;
  • Requests and supplemental documents submitted to a committee of Congress.

The database will include information on all bills that pass either chamber beginning the day the bill is signed into law.

Senator Gillibrand’s legislation is co-sponsored by 27 members of the Senate and 28 government reform organizations, including The Sunlight Foundation, Center for Responsive Politics, the Liberty Coalition and the Project on Government Oversight.

“Common Cause/NY is pleased to stand with Senator Gillibrand as she announces her reform agenda,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York. “The measures which she has proposed are important steps toward making Congress more transparent and accountable.  If the earmark system is to continue, we can never have too much transparency regarding earmarks. We applaud her effort to end secret holds on legislation and are proud to work alongside her for passage of the DISCLOSE Act, as well as the Fair Elections Now Act.  The DISCLOSE Act and Fair Elections are our best immediate hope for significantly reducing the impact of big money on our public policy.”

Full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter to Majority Leader Reid calling for a vote on the Earmark Transparency Act:

 

Dear Leader Reid,

I write today to request that the Senate consider a bipartisan earmark transparency bill before the end of this Congressional session.  Providing more openness and transparency to the earmark process will create greater accountability and more effectively engage our constituents in our efforts to create jobs and invest in our communities. 

I, along with 27 of our colleagues, recently cosponsored the Earmark Transparency Act, S. 3335.  This bill requires that all earmark requests made by Senators be listed in an easily searchable, public, database.  Specifically, the legislation requires the database to include the following information about each federal funding request:

  • Amount of initial request made by requestor;
  •  Amount approved by the Committee of jurisdiction;
  •  Amount approved in final legislation (if approved);
  • Type of organization receiving the request (public, non-profit, or private for-profit entity);
  • Project name, description and estimated completion date;
  •  Justification explaining how the spending item would benefit taxpayers;
  • Description, if applicable, of all non-federal sources of funding for the Congressionally directed spending item;
  • Requests and supplemental documents submitted to a committee of Congress.

 This legislation has broad bipartisan support and it is my firm belief that more openness and transparency will improve the earmark process. 

For the last three years, I have listed my earmark requests on my website and I have received positive feedback from my constituents.  By providing my constituents with all the information about the requests I make, I've empowered citizens in New York to play a role in the process, articulating what projects they think are smart investments and areas where taxpayer money could be better invested.  

As you know, President Obama has called for a single Web site to track all earmark requests and it is my hope that we may be able to create something that can be used during the appropriations process next year. 

I realize the Senate schedule will be very busy this year, but I hope that I may work with you to carve out just a small amount of time to consider this important issue.

2. Reduce Corporate Special Interest Influence on Elections
With the corporate victory in the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court case that allows corporations to spend limitless amounts of money on elections, the voice of corporate special interests will only grow and topple that of the average voter.

To help keep elections fair and honest, Senator Gillibrand is pushing the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act, legislation to hold big corporations accountable by making them stand by their political actions and disclose the primary funders of political advertising. Specifically, the legislation:

  • Requires new disclaimers on all television advertisements funded by special interests.
  • If a corporation is running the ad, the CEO will have to appear to at the end to say that he or she approved the message, just like a candidate must do today;
  • If an advocacy organization is running the ad, both the head of the organization running the ad, and the top outside funder of the ad, will have to appear on camera. Additionally, a list of the top five funders to that organization will be displayed on the screen in an effort stop the funneling of big money through shadow groups to fund virtually anonymous political advertising – following money to its origin, and making its sourcing public for the first time ever.
  • Mandates an unprecedented level of disclosure not only of an organization’s spending, but also its donors. 
  • Organizations will have a choice in disclosing their donors:  They can either disclose all of their donors that have given in excess $1,000, or they can disclose only those donors who contribute to the group’s Campaign-Related Activity Account, if they solely use that account for their spending;
  • All spending intended to influence an election—whether on television, radio, print, online, direct mail, telephone, and billboards—would flow through this account. Every donor who contributes more than $1,000 would have to be disclosed;
  • Organizations must disclose these donors to the FEC, the public on their websites, and to their shareholders and members through their annual and quarterly reports. 
  • Prevents foreign-controlled entities from spending unlimited sums in our elections through their U.S.-based subsidiaries.
  • Bans companies with government contracts in excess of $50,000 from making unlimited expenditures.
  • Ends expenditures by companies that receive government assistance, such as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
  • Strengthens current law to grant lowest unit rate to candidates by giving those same rights to the parties – on a limited geographic basis. 

 

3. End Automatic Congressional Pay Raises

From 1991 to 2007, Congress voted to raise its own pay 11 times, for a total increase of more than $60,600 in their annual salary, according to CRS. A one-year elimination was ultimately included in the final appropriations bill and Members did not receive a pay raise in 2011. Gillibrand voted twice in the House of Representatives to end the automatic pay raise.

Senator Gillibrand has opposed Congressional pay raises, and is a proud cosponsor of legislation to permanently end the automatic pay raise for Members of Congress.

The automatic annual adjustment for Members of Congress is determined by a formula using a component of the Employment Cost Index, which measures rate of change in private sector pay.  The adjustment automatically takes effect unless (1) Congress statutorily prohibits the adjustment; (2) Congress statutorily revises the adjustment; or (3) the annual base pay adjustment of General Schedule (GS) federal employees is established at a rate less than the scheduled increase for Members, in which case Members are paid the lower rate. Members may not receive an annual pay adjustment greater than 5 percent. This adjustment formula was established by the Ethics Reform Act of 1989.

Now Senator Gillibrand is joining with a bipartisan group of 20 of her colleagues to send a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to take up and pass S. 620, legislation that passed in the U.S. Senate last year to permanently end automatic pay raises. Their letter is below:

 

Dear Speaker Pelosi:

We urge you to bring up for a vote legislation passed by the Senate last year, S. 620, that would end the system of automatic, annual pay raises for members of Congress.  Passing this bill would save roughly $80 million over ten years, and help demonstrate that Congress is willing to tighten its own belt as we work to reduce record deficits.

We appreciate your efforts to prevent members of Congress from receiving a pay raise in 2011.  While that was an important step, it is time to end a system that guarantees members a pay hike unless they act to block it.  The burden should be on members of Congress who believe they deserve a raise to pass legislation, not on those who want to block one.  Few of our constituents have the power to raise their own pay -- Congress should exercise this power openly, on the record.

We thank you for considering our request and hope the House will soon take up S. 620.


4. Ban Anonymous Holds on Legislation

Currently, there are 132 anonymous holds on President Obama’s federal court nominations, and countless more on other legislation before the U.S. Senate. These holds bring the legislative process to a halt with no way to hold the obstructionist accountable. Together with 67 of her colleagues, Senator Gillibrand has written to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), calling on the leaders to once and for all end the practice of Senators putting anonymous holds on legislation. The full text of the letter is below:

 

Dear Leader Reid and Leader McConnell,
 
We the undersigned Senators hereby pledge that we will not place secret holds on legislation or nominations. 

We further call upon you to bring an end to the practice of permitting secret “holds” on legislation and nominations for those Senators who are unprepared to make the same pledge.  While we deeply respect and appreciate the importance of tradition in this institution, we believe the practice of the secret hold has no rightful place in the Senate or in an open and transparent democracy.  When a member of the Senate wishes to hold legislation or a nomination, that Senator owes to this body and, more importantly, to the American public a full explanation.  The Senate endorsed this principle in Section 512 of S.1, passed by a vote of 96-2 on January 18, 2007.
 
As you know, S.1 has failed in practice to end the use of secret holds.  We, therefore, urge you to promptly consider further changes to the Senate rules in order to bring a clear and definitive end to secret holds on legislation or a nomination.  We stand ready to work with you on such a rule change, as long advocated for by Senators Wyden and Grassley, the leaders of a decade-long effort to eliminate secret holds in the Senate.  We applaud their work and believe it must now be pursued to its conclusion.
 
Again, in making this request, we pledge that we will not place secret holds on legislation or a nomination.