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« CFTC awards whistleblower $30 million | Main | Glencore chairman leads bribery investigation »
Thursday
Jul122018

Shruti Shah: A 2018 voter’s guide to ethics and integrity

In November 2018, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 34 Senate seats, and 36 governorships are up for grabs. We must challenge our candidates to compete on the basis of their commitment to integrity.

While voters’ views on many issues diverge, Americans across the political spectrum should agree that it is time to clean up politics and government in the United States. There is an anti-corruption voter base.

When assessing candidates, let’s ask:

  • Will they recuse themselves from matters in which they have a personal financial interest to avoid any appearance of a conflict?
  • Will they commit not to accept gifts from anyone other than close personal friends and family members?
  • If they are seeking full-time positions such as Governor, Attorney General, will they disclose their most recent tax returns so we get a detailed picture of their finances or potential conflicts of interest.

On the campaign trail itself, we live in a world where super PACs cleverly avoid genuine donor disclosure, accepting unlimited sums of money from entities like LLCs that do not have to disclose their donors. Although permissible under FEC rules, candidates should hold themselves to a high standard and refuse to speak, solicit funds, and appear as “special guests” at super PAC events unless that organization discloses the names of all contributors -- including the ultimate owners of LLCs which contribute. 

If voters can know the ultimate sources behind campaign spending, they would be better able to assess not only the credibility of the campaign ads financed by outside spending, but they would also be better able to judge the candidates themselves.

Over the last year, we have heard countless stories about how targeted digital ads and Russian trolls are trying to sow division in the U.S. electorate using social media platforms like Facebook. To support transparency, Congress and state governments should mandate prompt and full disclosure of independent political advocacy spending by individuals, businesses and labor unions -- and especially by foreigners. 

Robust political debate is a good thing, but voters deserve to know who is undertaking the advocacy. Anonymous advocacy is cowardly.

I grew up in India, a country with systemic corruption. I experienced corruption at every step of my education there. All my life, I have looked to the United States as a beacon of democracy. When I received my U.S. citizenship in 2010, I distinctly remember the pride I felt at belonging to this great nation.
 
Free elections make our prized democracy possible. If we want elections with integrity, we as voters need to act with integrity ourselves. We need to show up and vote. We need to demand accountability from our elected officials and broaden our information sources. And we need to periodically reexamine our views.

It is revealing that governments that wish us ill have chosen to undermine our country by trying to undermine the integrity of our elections. All of us -- elected officials at the federal and state level, candidates, and voters -- can and must fight back by enhancing electoral integrity. Above all, it is important to reinforce that our values are worth fighting for and our institutions are worth preserving.

_____

Shruti Shah is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog and the President and CEO of the Coalition for Integrity (formerly Transparency International-USA), where she leads the Coalition’s development and promotion of approaches to combat corruption in business and government. She can be contacted here.

Reader Comments (2)

Shruti’s clarion call for individual and collective action may be the most important message of this generation. It took me decades to fully grasp that the most important thing any of can do is to set the example. That simple day-by-day guidepost applies to individuals, corporations, institutions and countries alike. Are you up to the important task at hand?
July 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Henderson
Congratulations, Shruti, on assuming the lead of CfI! This post displays your characteristic eloquence and thoughtfulness.
July 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob Leventhal
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