2020 policy alert
October 14, 2019

A day after former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, announced he was resigning from a Chinese private equity firm and that he would no longer sit on the board or work for any foreign company, the elder Biden unveiled a sweeping ethics agenda as part of his presidential campaign.

The plan did not mention his son, whose foreign business dealings have raised some eyebrows and, well, conspiracy theories, despite no evidence of any actual wrongdoing. Instead, Biden went after President Trump and his administration, which he dubbed the "most corrupt" in modern history. Like other Democratic candidates who have released ethics plans, Biden addressed issues such as campaign finance, tax returns, and lobbying.

Additionally, one of the points in the agenda seeks to prevent the president from "improperly interfering in federal investigations and prosecutions." If Biden is elected to office, that is, he will work to ensure that he and any succeeding presidents don't have too much say about "who or what to investigate or prosecute." While this addresses federal investigations, rather than foreign ones, it's worth noting that Biden and his son were the subject of unsubstantiated allegations of corruption in Ukraine by members of the Trump administration, which in turn led to Trump asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate them.

Biden also plans to eliminate a loophole in existing financial disclosure law that allows candidates and public officials to transfer personal assets into trusts controlled by family members and close friends, assuring voters that "any member of his administration who is a beneficiary of a discretionary trust" will "disclose all of its holdings." Read the full plan here. Tim O'Donnell

October 2, 2019

The latest plan from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) does not have a lot of support from lobbyists, which shouldn't come as a huge shocker, considering she's targeting them with taxation.

The Democratic presidential candidate announced Wednesday that, if elected, she intends to "end lobbying as we know it" by pursing a 35 percent tax rate on corporate and trade organization lobbying if the amount is somewhere between $500 and $1 million. The progressive rate would increase to 60 percent for spending between $1 million and $5 million and 75 percent for anything over $5 million.

The idea isn't sitting too well with lobbyists, The Hill reports. In fact, they've gone so far as to call it unconstitutional.

"Senator Warren wants to tax people because she doesn't like them exercising their right to petition the government," U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley told The Hill in a statement Wednesday. "I am sure lots of people would like to tax politicians who give too many speeches, but that isn't constitutional either." The Chamber of Commerce is reportedly the country's top lobbying spender and has already spent $40.6 million so far in 2019.

Meanwhile, Linda Kelly, the senior vice president of legal, general counsel, and corporate secretary, for the National Association of Manufacturers, which has spent $4.2 million so far this year said it would be "an attack on manufacturers' First Amendment rights."

Warren's proposal is one aspect of her broader anti-corruption plan. Read more at The Hill. Tim O'Donnell

September 18, 2019

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) unveiled a new plan to tackle America's affordable housing crisis Wednesday, just one day after President Trump made headlines when he criticized the problem of homelessness in California.

Sanders, who hopes to challenge Trump in 2020 as the Democratic presidential nominee, laid out a series of ideas to rehabilitate America's public housing, make rent more affordable, strengthen tenant rights, end homelessness, and make it easier for people to purchase a home. He also carved out a section dedicated to combating gentrification.

"While we expand and build new housing, we must ensure that current tenants and homeowners are not forced out of their homes or neighborhoods," the plan reads. "We must also ensure that wealthy and exclusionary neighborhoods do no not prevent new development, forcing gentrification and displacement in low-income and minority areas."

Some of the ways Sanders would go about this, if elected, include supporting new zoning ordinances that encourage "racial, economic, and disability integration that makes housing more affordable." But there are also more specific proposals aimed at speculators within the plan. That includes a 25 percent "House Flipping tax" that would be levied against people who sell a non-owner occupied property at a profit within five years of purchase, and a 2 percent "Empty Homes tax" on the property value of vacant, owned homes in the hopes of bringing more units into the market and discouraging speculative real estate investments. Read the full plan here. Tim O'Donnell

September 16, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released a proposal Monday for an anti-corruption plan that Vox describes as her "legislative cornerstone."

Warren argues that the American people have lost faith in the U.S. government as Washington caters more and more to the "wealthy and well-connected," while leaving everyone else behind. Her latest proposal, as she seeks the Democratic presidential nomination, would attempt to end corruption in Washington, which she suggests has reached its zenith under the Trump administration.

One of the ways she would do this is by redefining the blurred lines in the world of lobbying. Warren would make it illegal for elected officials and top government appointees to become lobbyists at any point after serving in their role. That includes presidents, vice presidents, members of Congress, federal judges, and cabinet secretaries. The ban would also extend to all other federal employees, although the restrictions wouldn't be permanent. In those cases, Warren would still instill a general 2-year ban, as well as a 6-year ban for corporate lobbyists.

Among the other ideas Warren outlined in the sweeping proposal are requiring the release of eight years of tax returns for all presidential and vice presidential candidates, as well as the release of returns from the president and vice president each year they are in office. Warren would also ban elected and appointed officials from owning or trading individual stocks while at their post and require presidents and vice presidents to place their businesses into a blind trust to be sold off after being elected.

Vox reports Warren has made it clear this would be the first major legislative priority of her administration if she is elected to the Oval Office next year. Read the full plan here. Tim O'Donnell

September 3, 2019

Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro is trying to raise his mediocre environmental rating. Greenpeace gives the 2020 presidential candidate a "C" grade, placing him 13th out of 20 Democratic hopefuls. But Castro's new climate plan, released one day ahead of CNN's town hall on climate, could change his grade.

Castro's plan consists of an array of ideas, including passing civil rights legislation to prevent environmental discrimination, establishing a new legal category of "climate refugees," forming a National Climate Council, and stopping fossil fuel extraction from public lands. Castro, however, also seeks to provide an "Economic Guarantee for Fossil Fuel Workers." A Castro administration, as the plan outlines, would be dedicated to transitioning the country to renewable energy in order to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045. But, in doing so, it would also help coal, oil, and gas workers — many of whom have already lost their jobs — gain financial security.

"Our transformation away from fossil fuels will affect millions of workers and requires an economic security guarantee, similar to the GI Bill for returning veterans of World War II," the plan reads. Among those guarantees are health care and disability benefits, including programs like the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. Castro would also defend pensions for mineworkers and aid communities affected by fossil fuel plant shutdowns through economic and educational assistance programs. Read the full plan here. Tim O'Donnell

August 20, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released another plan on Tuesday. This time around she's focusing on criminal justice reform, in the wake of several of her competitors unveiling similar proposals in recent weeks.

Like the other Democrats, Warren touched on several different topics in the plan, which is determined to reduce mass incarceration and curb recidivism from the ground-up by focusing on the education system, mental health services, and addiction treatment. "It is a false choice choice to suggest a tradeoff between safety and mass incarceration," the plan reads. "By spending our budgets not on imprisonment but on community services that lift people up, we'll decarcerate and make our communities safer."

The proposal takes an indirect shot at former Vice President Joe Biden by calling for the repeal of the 1994 crime bill, which the then-senator backed. Warren argues that the bill "exacerbated" incarceration rates by punishing people severely for minor crimes. The proposal also specifies that the bill's mandatory minimums and "truth-in-sentencing" provisions should be reduced or eliminated, allowing judges more flexibility when making sentencing decisions.

While Warren wants to ax most of the bill, she does concede that certain aspects, such as its section relating to domestic violence, ought to remain in place. Read the full plan here. Tim O'Donnell

August 18, 2019

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is ready to implement criminal justice reform.

The 2020 Democratic candidate unveiled a major policy proposal on Sunday, which details how he'd revamp the criminal justice system, with his sights set on the country's prisons, police departments, courts, and drug policies. It's a sweeping plan that would reportedly require the passage of legislation and cooperation with local and state governments. Politico also reports that it will likely draw criticism from police unions as one of Sanders' recommendations is to establish a list of "disreputable" law enforcement officials who cannot be called to testify in court.

One of the major arguments Sanders makes, especially in regards to mass incarceration, is that hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people are in jail not because they have been convicted of a crime, but because they cannot afford bail. Even if they are acquitted, then, "the severe damage to their lives cannot be undone," per the proposal. "We are criminalizing poverty," the plan reads.

So, Sanders proposes ending cash bail, reminiscent of a bill he proposed in 2018. He would end the use of secure bonds in federal criminal proceedings, provide grants to states to reduce their pretrial detention populations, and withhold funding from states that continue the use of cash bail systems.

Among some of the other major points in the plan are the institution of "safe injection sites" where people can use illegal drugs under medical supervision and the abolishment of for-profit prisons. Read the proposal here. Tim O'Donnell

July 2, 2019

Executive action for executive action. That's how Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) plans to address immigration reform if he's elected to the Oval Office in 2020.

Booker unveiled his immigration plan on Tuesday. While his vision is bold, many of the steps he would take to address the issue align with those favored by his Democratic primary contenders, including shutting down "inhumane" Department of Homeland Security facilities, reversing President Trump's "zero tolerance" policy, reforming Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and addressing root causes by working with regional partners in Central America. He'd also phase out the use of private, for-profit migrant detention centers over a three-year period, which reportedly account for roughly two-thirds of all beds in the detention system. That would significantly reduce space, but Booker would adopt "evidence-based non-profit alternatives" to detention to counteract that. The plan does not detail the alternatives.

Booker does not shy away from how he'd get this done. Right at the top of the plan's first page, in big, bold print, are the words "Cory Booker Won't Wait for Congress." Instead, as president, Booker says he'll take swift, decisive action beginning on his first day in the White House by signing executive orders to begin dismantling the policies espoused by the Trump administration regarding the southern border.

As Booker puts it, he's planning on countering Trump by using his own methods.

Read the plan at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

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