With the United States government spending unprecedented amounts to counter the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, a comprehensive package of oversight and anti-corruption measures has been introduced to ensure that funding appropriated by Congress is properly and effectively spent.
Here are five ways the Coronavirus Oversight and Recovery Ethics Act (CORE Act) would help stop corruption from undermining the US response to the crisis.
- The CORE Act would bring unprecedented transparency to government contracts. Private companies have already received billions of taxpayer dollars in government contracts. Yet a loophole in federal law prevents the public from seeing the terms of those agreements, even through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The TI-US office has worked to close this loophole by requiring that all contracts valued above US$150,000 be published online in a machine-readable, searchable format. The CORE Act adopts this requirement for the first time by applying it to all government contracts that spend coronavirus relief funds.
- No favors for political supporters. The CORE Act would adopt powerful new conflict of interest rules for government officials. Typically, rules designed to guard against conflicts of interest only recognise family or financial relationships (e.g., an official can’t work on a matter that involves their family members or financial investments). CORE would expand this traditional framework by covering political relationships as well. Under CORE, if political spending (e.g., a big-money donor spends thousands of dollars on an official’s election) creates the appearance of a conflict of interest to a reasonable person, that official will be disqualified from working on matters involving the donor.
- The CORE Act would protect whistleblowers who call out corruption. The CORE Act establishes strong whistleblower protections for government employees, government contractors, and private sector workers who witness waste, fraud, abuse, or dangers to public health. Americans who blow the whistle would be protected from retaliation, including firing, demotion, and blacklisting, and would be able to submit complaints directly to the oversight authorities created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
- Bailed-out companies can’t woo government officials with job offers. The CORE Act would help close the “revolving door” between public service and private interests by prohibiting certain government employees from negotiating or discussing future employment or compensation with private sector companies. Another first for federal anti-corruption law, this restriction would help ensure that officials responsible for allocating large sums of taxpayer money do so with only the public interest in mind.
- Bailed-out companies can’t influence politicians through lobbying or political spending. Whether or not a private company receives taxpayer money shouldn’t be influenced by how much money that company spends on lobbying politicians or helping to get them elected. Under the CORE Act, companies that receive coronavirus-related loans or loan guarantees would be restricted from spending money on lobbying or influencing elections while that loan is outstanding and for at least one year after the loan is repaid. Critically, TI-US has pushed for such restrictions to cover not only direct election spending by such companies, but “indirect” spending as well—including donations to super PACs or 501(c)(4) “dark money” groups that spend a company’s money for it. The CORE Act adopts this expansive approach by applying the restriction to direct and indirect spending, making it a model anti-corruption reform for the Citizens United era.