Editorial: Sunlight is the best disinfectant for Congress 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made ethics reform a centerpiece of her first 100 hours, but there remains much hard work to be done before there is sufficient transparency and accountability of Congress to restore the confidence of the people in their legislators.

With the emergence in 2006 of the strongly bipartisan Sunlight Movement that successfully pushed for passage of the Coburn-Obama Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, The Examiner believes sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant for all three branches of government. It is especially so for Congress because our laws all begin there. Congress should move quickly on these five reforms:

1. Update the federal Freedom of Information Act and apply it to Congress: Nothing Congress can do would go further to re-establish credibility than to submit its own operations to the same disclosure laws that have applied to the executive branch since 1966. The right vehicle for doing so is The Open Government Act co-sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Among much else, their bill establishes for the first time ever penalties for agencies that fail to fulfill their FOIA responsibilities. A provision to apply FOIA to Congress would make the bill the most significant ethics reform Congress can pass.

2. Put congressional management accounts online, including all office disbursements, franking and staff salaries, and require financial and campaign finance reports for individual members of Congress to be posted online no more than 24 hours after being filed.

3. Post all legislative proposals online, including original bills, amendments, committee reports, conference reports, joint explanatory statements and official versions of bills as reported to the floor for votes at least 72 hours prior to official floor votes on amendments and/or final passage. Names of members sponsoring all bills that direct the spendingof tax dollars should be included in the online versions. Proposals for projects funded by earmarks should be accompanied by publicly available Congressional Budget Office cost estimates and project descriptions written by the agency responsible for the project. Public competitive bidding should be required on all contracts in connection with earmark-funded projects.

4. Members should post their daily official calendars on their official Web sites, so that constituents can see who their representatives and senators are talking to and who is seeking to influence their votes.

5. Lobbyists meeting with members of Congress and their staff should be registered and should disclose all such contacts, as well as campaign donations they make or encourage, their previous government employment, if any, and their familial relationships, if any, to current or former members of Congress or staff members. Lobbyist reports should be filed quarterly and posted online within 24 hours of filing deadlines.

Let’s open up Congress to greater scrutiny so that the public can see what is really going on.

This We Believe:

The Examiner’s priorities for the new Congress

» Monday: Can Democrats clamp down on the trial lawyers?

» Tuesday: Fix the broken immigration system

» Wednesday: Don’t let PAYGO become GO PAY MORE

» Thursday: We can achieve energy independence in 10 years or less

» Today: Sunlight is the best disinfectant

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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