- Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday used her new seat on the House Oversight Committee to deliver an impassioned argument for campaign-finance reform and stronger government ethics laws.
- The New York Democrat posed a creative series of questions to ethics experts to expose how a corrupt, self-interested lawmaker could avoid accountability in Congress.
- She called it the “Corruption Game.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday used her new seat on the House Oversight Committee to deliver an impassioned argument for campaign-finance reform and stronger government ethics laws.
The New York Democrat posed a creative series of questions to ethics experts to expose how a corrupt, self-interested lawmaker could avoid accountability in Congress.
“Let’s play a lightning-round game,” she began. “I’m going to be the bad guy – which I’m sure half the room would agree with anyway – and I want to get away with as much bad things as possible, ideally to enrich myself and advance my interests, even if that means putting my interests ahead of the American people.”
She then asked the panel of ethics experts whether she could use “special-interest dark money” from corporate PACs to fund her theoretical campaign, dole out hush-money payments to keep adversaries quiet, write laws that benefit her donors, and then buy stocks in companies that would benefit from those laws.
They said she could do all of the above.
Ocasio-Cortez then asked: “Is it possible that any elements of this story apply to our current government and our current public servants?”
After an expert responded in the affirmative, Ocasio-Cortez asked whether the ethics regulations pertaining to the president were stricter than those for Congress.
“There’s almost no laws at all that apply to the president,” said Walter Shaub, the director of the Campaign Legal Center and a former head of the US Office of Government Ethics.
.@AOC: "Let's play a lightning round game. I'm gonna be the bad guy, which I'm sure half the room would agree with, anyway."
— Frank Dale (@fwdale) February 7, 2019
“It’s already super legal, as we’ve seen, for me to be a pretty bad guy, so it’s even easier for the president of the United States to be one,” Ocasio-Cortez concluded.
The hearing revolved around sweeping legislation introduced by Democrats last month known as HR 1, the For the People Act of 2019, which includes anti-corruption reforms and measures that would make it easier to vote. The bill also seeks to reduce the influence of big money in elections with a publicly funded matching system for small-dollar donations to congressional campaigns.
Ocasio-Cortez campaigned heavily on her call to reform campaign-finance laws and get big money out of politics. Like a growing number of Democrats, she barred corporate PAC money from her campaign. About 62% of the $2 million Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign raised in the 2018 cycle came from donations of $200 or less, according to Open Secrets.
Ocasio-Cortez delivered her questioning after some Republicans on the committee, including the top GOP member, Rep. Jim Jordan, criticized HR 1 as a “wish list for Democrats.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently described the bill as a “power grab,” calling it the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.” He was widely mocked by critics, including Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, who tweeted: “Voting is a power grab. By citizens.”
In what could be interpreted as a jab at President Donald Trump, the bill also includes a requirement for presidential and vice-presidential candidates to release their tax returns; Trump has broken years of precedent by refusing to do so.
John Haltiwanger contributed to this report.