President-elect Joe Biden plans to impose a slew of new ethics restrictions on his incoming administration, a source familiar with the plan tells CNN, including barring his appointees from accepting “golden parachute” bonuses from their former employers when they join the government.
The new ethics rules are also expected to attempt to slow the revolving door between the government and the lobbying world by barring employees who leave the Biden administration from lobbying the administration for the length of Biden’s term in office.
The ethics rules, which were first reported by The Washington Post, are expected to be embodied in an executive order in the early days of Biden’s presidency, also would bar departing executive branch from assisting lobbyists for one year after they leave the administration. The new one-year prohibition on “shadow” lobbying clamps down on the practice of well-connected former officials cashing in on their government expertise by joining firms where they help lobbyists and lobbying firm clients navigate Washington without formally registering as lobbyists.
Democrats, after four years under President Donald Trump where questionable ethical moves were commonplace, have long called for more stringent ethics rules for the incoming Biden administration and these new guidelines, some of which are stricter than rules during the Obama administration, look to assuage those desires.
The ban on incoming government officials receiving payments from their former employers is the most significant shift in the new guidelines. Banning employers from making substantial payments to incoming government officials became a topic during the presidential campaign, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren often decrying the practice.
The new rules would limit the influence of officials on the way out of government work, too, by keeping the Obama-era pledge to ban people leaving their jobs from quickly lobbying the government they just left. Biden also plans to implement new rules aimed at curbing contact former officials have with both their old agencies and senior White House staff, as well as former officials registering as foreign agents so they can lobby on behalf of foreign entities.
The plan will also ask government officials to adhere to certain ethical commitments, such as making decisions entirely with the public interest in mind and making choices after their government work that do not create even the appearance of using their service for gain.
“If the plan is as currently being reported, this policy goes further than we have ever seen in a presidential ethics plan,” Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen, said in a statement. “It will crackdown on shadow lobbying jobs, end golden parachutes intended to seat corporate insiders in government, and halt the rapidly spinning revolving door.”
“Boldness is needed in this moment to restore the people’s faith in government and this policy takes a critical step in the right direction,” she added.
Details of Biden’s ethics plan emerged as Senate Democrats, who are poised to soon take the majority in the chamber, announced that their first legislative effort will be a sweeping measure to overhaul government ethics, campaign finance and voting laws.
The legislation, dubbed “For the People Act,” aims to make it easier to vote by requiring, among other changes, same-day voter registration and 15 days of early voting in federal elections. It also seeks more disclosure on political spending, establishes public matching funds for Senate and presidential candidates and would impose new congressional and executive branch ethics requirements, including requiring presidents to divest assets that pose potential conflicts of interest within 30 days of taking office or disclose more information about their business interests.
Gilbert said the twin proposals emerging Tuesday from the incoming Biden administration and Senate Democrats means “it’s a good day for government integrity.”
In addition to the forthcoming ethics executive order, the Biden administration also plans to restore a practice instituted during the Obama administration and publicly release information about visitors to the White House, incoming press secretary Jen Psaki recently announced.
In the early months of Trump’s tenure, his administration cut off the practice of publicly releasing the logs of visitors to the White House complex, citing national security and privacy concerns.
Norm Eisen, who served as White House ethics czar during the first term of the Obama administration, called Biden’s soon-to-be-released rules “the most ambitious ethics plan we’ve seen from an administration of either party.”
“It’s a very impressive start,” he told CNN. “Now, all of us watchdogs will be monitoring for compliance. But there’s every indication they will stick with it.”