Americans deserve to have full confidence in our elections, and that our leaders answer only to us, the people. But unanswered questions still surround President Trump’s unprecedented conflicts of interest, his campaign and administration’s ties to foreign governments, and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Our 10-point agenda outlines the concrete steps that our leaders can take to put country over party, ensure that Americans know exactly what happened, hold power accountable, and strengthen voters’ faith in the security of our elections.
Click the points below to expand for more information.
1) The Department of Justice must appoint a special counsel to investigate any foreign collusion and interference in the 2016 presidential election.
You got it done! Working together across party lines, you increased public pressure on the Department of Justice to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee an investigation of Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller’s investigation will also look into any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign, and any matters that may arise from the investigation, including the possibility that President Trump obstructed justice by attempting to interfere with the FBI’s investigation.
The Department of Justice must protect the independence of the special counsel’s investigation “from the normal chain of command,” as the Deputy Attorney General said in his statement announcing the appointment the special counsel.
2) Congress must establish an independent, nonpartisan special commission to investigate wrongdoing.
A special counsel alone isn’t enough to get the answers we deserve. Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was an attack on American democracy, and we deserve to know the full story so we can better guard against future interference. The best way to accomplish this goal is with an independent commission.
An independent commission will be more transparent than a special counsel’s investigation, different in its in scope from the criminal investigation, and independent from the political branches of government. This could lead to significant changes at the highest levels of government and is essential in our democracy.
An independent commission’s purpose is also broader than a special counsel’s investigation. The special counsel will investigate criminal wrongdoing, but an independent commission will investigate the full nature of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election – not just whether crimes were committed. With that information, the commission must then offer recommendations on how to protect the institutions of American democracy going forward.
3) Public testimony from key witnesses is essential to ongoing investigations.
Although they are no substitutes for an independent commission, some congressional committees are investigating Russian interference in the election.
The American people deserve information on the health of their democracy and its vulnerability to outside attackers. Key witnesses should testify publicly.
4) The White House should immediately release President Trump’s tax returns and any information involving the Trump Organization’s foreign investments and business deals.
Americans deserve to see President Trump’s tax returns and any personal or business financial information that might affect his decision-making when it comes to national security, foreign policy issues, and other areas where he may have conflicts of interest.
Every president since Richard Nixon has released his tax returns with the exception of Gerald Ford, who released a detailed 10-year summary. President Trump’s tax returns (and those of his business entities) will have more detailed financial information about his foreign business deals, and may reveal any financial ties he has to Russia and other adversarial foreign governments.
Furthermore, at a time when President Trump is proposing massive tax cuts for wealthy individuals like himself and big businesses like his Trump Organization, Americans deserve to know how much he pays in taxes and how much he would personally benefit from his policy proposals.
5) Congress and state legislatures should take immediate action requiring future presidential nominees to release their tax returns starting in 2020.
To ensure that every future presidential nominee releases his or her tax returns, Congress should pass the Presidential Tax Transparency Act, which would require the President and certain candidates for President to disclose their federal income tax returns for the three most recent taxable years to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) or the Federal Election Commission (FEC). This legislation has bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.
Additionally, state legislatures should pass legislation requiring presidential and vice presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the general election ballot. New Jersey’s legislature passed a bill along these lines, but the Governor vetoed it, and Common Cause activists are working on these bills across the country.
6) The White House should immediately release and regularly post White House visitor logs and visitor logs of anywhere President Trump does official business, and Congress should pass the MAR-A-LAGO Act requiring it to do so.
While the White House has reversed President Obama’s transparency policy and withheld disclosure of White House visitor logs, Congress should pass legislation requiring the White House to do so.
The MAR-A-LAGO Act would require public release of visitor logs from the White House and any place the President does official business, such as President Trump’s resorts and properties he often visits on the weekends where he conducts public business.
This bill is a commonsense transparency and security measure to ensure that the public knows who has access to the President.
7) Congress should pass and the President should sign into law disclosure reforms that expose and prevent foreign and secret money in American elections.
Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, entities that do not disclose their donors have pumped more than $800 million into our elections. This deprives Americans of their right to know who is behind campaigns, whether the law is being enforced, and to whom our elected officials may be beholden.
It is quite easy for sham nonprofit organizations, LLCs and other entities to hide the true identity of those spending money to influence campaigns. And although it is illegal for foreign nationals to spend money in our elections, our current disclosure laws are woefully inadequate to ensure that the law is being upheld.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United further unsettled matters when it permitted corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in American elections. Corporations may be foreign-controlled, or have other ties to foreign nationals.
As technology changes and political advertising shifts to online platforms, our transparency laws should keep pace. The revelations about Kremlin-connected influence operations on Facebook and Twitter underscore how important it is for Congress to take meaningful action.
8) Election administration should be made transparent and resilient.
Voters should mark paper ballots or use machines with a paper trail that the voter can verify, all machine-counted results should be subject to post-election audits, and we must stop the practice of sending marked ballots over the Internet as they are very vulnerable to cyber attack .
To guard against future cyberattacks on our statewide voter registration databases and voting machines, United States election administrators, legislators, and officials should build-in resilience to these systems.
Many steps can be taken right now to guard against outsider attacks and insider attacks, but our voting processes must be resilient enough to preserve accurate vote counts even if voting systems are penetrated. Furthermore, computer errors and human programming errors can produce significant miscounts.
Basic steps must be taken to ensure the integrity of our democracy. There should be a paper record for every vote cast. Election officials should conduct manual post-election audits – a necessary check on the election process. Voters should not be casting ballots by email or through Internet portals, because the Internet is by its nature vulnerable to hacking.
9) Congress should pass and the President should sign into law legislation that provides significant funding for new voting machines and election equipment.
In states and localities across the country, voting machines and election equipment are old and outdated, and therefore more prone to potential hacking or other problems on Election Day.
In the 2016 election, 42 states used voting machines that were at least a decade-old. That would be like a consumer still using a first-generation iPhone or Windows Vista today. The problem of our nation’s outdated voting equipment has in part led to the Department of Homeland Security designating our voting systems as “critical infrastructure” in January 2017.
A 2015 report by the Brennan Center for Justice estimated that the initial national cost of replacing older voting and election equipment could exceed $1 billion over several years. As the report authors explain, this cost “could be partially offset by lower operating costs and better contracts than are currently used in many jurisdictions.”
There is ample precedent for Congress to help state and local governments update their election equipment. The Help America Vote Act of 2002, signed into law by President George W. Bush, authorized $3.65 billion in payments to states to replace voting systems and meet the requirements of the Act.
10) Americans must safeguard the freedom of the media.
A free and independent media—and by extension, an informed public—is essential to a functioning democracy.
The First Amendment guarantees it. President Trump’s repeated rhetoric that the media is “the enemy of the American people” undermines the critical role journalists play every day to hold power accountable.
The media must be protected to the fullest extent of the law. Congress must act to ensure the free flow of information and the exchange of ideas, including through affordable access to the open internet for all.