Bad Poll for America


CNN reports this morning a new poll which shows the depths to which people have come to think that Congress is corrupt.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Half of all Americans believe most members of Congress are corrupt — a figure that has risen 12 points since the start of the year — and more than a third think their own representative is crooked, according to a new poll released Thursday by CNN. According to the poll, a majority disapproves of how both parties are handling their jobs in Congress. Just 42 percent approve of how the Democrats are doing in Congress, while 54 percent disapprove. The GOP fares even worse — only 36 percent approve of their performance in Congress, while 61 percent disapprove. Pollsters from Opinion Research Corp. interviewed 1,012 Americans from Friday through Sunday. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. In January, 22 percent of those polled said they believed their own member of Congress was corrupt, a number that has jumped to 36 percent since then.



It’s hard to imagine Congress sinking any lower in the court of public opinion. Surely it’s time for some folks up on the Hill to be thinking about what can be done early in the next Congress to begin to regain trust in the institution. Could transparency breed more trust? We think so.

Here are 5 simple ideas that would go a long way:

Current reporting requirements for Members of Congress should be updated and expanded. Members are now required to disclose campaign receipts and expenditures, personal financial holdings, trips, gifts and travel. These reports should be improved in several respects. All reports should be required to be filed electronically. They all should be filed monthly, in a uniform electronic format, and made available online in searchable format within 24 hours of their filing. 

Expansion of reporting requirements that would enhance the openness of Congressional activity would include the online posting of the official lawmakers’ and senior staff daily schedules, including all appointments with lobbyists and fundraisers. (See the work of our Punch Clock campaign.)

Current reporting requirements for lobbyists should be updated and expanded. Lobbyists are now required to disclose report minimal information about their fees and contact with lawmakers. These disclosures should also be amended so that lobbyists file monthly reports, in a uniform electronic format, and make those reports available online in searchable format within 24 hours of their filing.

There should be greater transparency of legislative activity. When Members of Congress take legislative action – introducing a bill, offering an amendment or earmark, inserting a statement into a Committee Report or the Congressional Record or similar action – the lawmaker should be required to disclose their role in that action and the direct beneficiary if there is one. Such information should be disclosed online in a timely fashion. All legislation should be posted online for a minimum of 72 hours before voting can take place.

There should be greater transparency for correspondence with regulatory agencies. Consistent with the principles reflected in the Freedom of Information Act, correspondence and memoranda of communications between a Member or staff of a Member, and an Executive Branch agency or regulatory agency, excepting communications concerning the eligibility of an individual constituent of the communicating Member for a personal benefit authorized by an existing federal statute or regulation, should become part of a public record, accessible and maintained online, in searchable text format.

Congress Should Establish an Independent Office of Public Integrity to Insure Compliance with Disclosure and Related Ethics Rules. Given the degree of non-compliance with existing disclosure requirements, Congress must provide for the effective independent monitoring and enforcement of all these reporting, disclosure and other related ethics rules.

There is no question that timely online access to information about the Congress and its members will enable citizens and the press to better understand the activities of their lawmakers and the institution, to monitor the interplay between lawmakers and lobbyists, and enable Congress to better police itself. The time has never been more ripe to make it happen.