Gallup just released a new poll that shows that only 18% of the American public approve of Congress with 76% disapproving — an all-time low. This poll was taken two full weeks after Congress passed the new ethics law which some have described as great victory. (We were very pleased with the online disclosure provisions but generally felt the bill didn’t go broad or deep enough.) The numbers represent a significant drop in Congressional support over the past few months, down from a 35% approval rating in March.
I certainly would have thought that the new earmark disclosure requirements alone, which would allow the public to view the sponsors of congressional earmarks on the Internet, would have been something that the public would have noticed, and really liked. There were lots of other good things in the bill too, even though it didn’t go nearly far enough to cleanse the Congress of even the perception of corruption. And clearly it didn’t.
So this makes me think that Congress will have to go even further to get the public’s attention. Will transparency breed what we called "trustiness"? What if Congress told the public everything they did? Maybe they should twitter their schedules, or at least post them with their meetings with lobbyists highlighted. Maybe they should freely share their correspondence with regulatory agencies. How about if they applied FOIA to themselves so the public can get any information they want about their representative or senator? There are lots of steps Congress can take to make itself more open.
Congress needs to repair the estranged relationship it has with the American public for our democracy to have any meaning. Just like a marriage counselor advises their clients, communication, honesty and openness are the ways to repair the breach.