Barack Obama/Elections and Government Policy

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Wiki the vote tall.gif This article is part of the Wiki-The-Vote project to detail the positions and records of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama. This article covers Obama and Elections and Government Policy. See the main page on Barack Obama for other positions and more info.

Ethics reform and transparency:

Barack Obama has been very active on ethics reform since he joined Congress. In 2008 he pushed for lawmakers to have to disclose all communications with lobbyists. In 2007 he publicly disclosed all the earmarks he had requested that year. In 2006, as the Democrats' "point man" on ethics, he proposed several reforms that were voted down or dropped by the Senate, including an independent commission to oversee Senate ethics rules (a committee of senators currently does), a ban on lawmakers negotiating future employment as lobbyists, and several earmarks reforms, including a ban on trading votes for earmarks, a ban on lawmakers advocating for earmarks they have a financial interest in, and a requirement that earmarks be available for scrutiny before votes. He also proposed a failed bill requiring all committee meetings be televised, all bills be posted on the internet 3 days before votes and all earmarks be posted 3 days before approval.

In 2006 Obama, along with Sen. Tom Coburn, sponsored a bill passed by Congress (i.e. the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act) that created a searchable, online database of all government contracts.[1]

Election reform:

Obama sponsored a bill in 2007 that would establish criminal penalties for engaging in voter deception. The bill was passed by the House but has not been by the Senate.

Campaign finance:

In 2007, Obama sponsored a bill to expand the public financing of presidential elections and bar soft money from being used in the funding of presidential conventions.

Government transparency and ethics reform

2007 ethics and transparency reform legislation

In January 2007, Obama and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) proposed that members of Congress disclose all "oral communications" with lobbyists. The proposal was part of the debate on the main ethics bill pushed by congressional Democrats after they captured Congress in the 2006 elections, but the senators dropped the proposal during further debate. Bill Miller, who represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, “it seems to us it would be reporting for reporting’s sake”.[2]

Main article: Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007

Reveals 2007 earmark requests

On June 21, 2007, Senator Obama released a list of earmark requests he submitted over the year. He had requested roughly 100 proposed earmarks from the Appropriations Committee, and the requests were for largely benign items, ranging from funding for AIDS programs to Army Corps of Engineers projects in the Chicagoland area.

Except for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), all of the other presidential hopefuls currently serving in Congress have also made requests for earmarks during the annual appropriations process, but only Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas), along with Senator Obama, revealed their earmark requests.[3]

2006 ethics and earmark reforms

On January 9, 2006 the Democratic Congressional caucus unveiled a set of lobbying and ethics reforms in the wake of the Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham scandals. Sen. Obama was named as the Democratic point man on ethics in the Senate. Obama had previously led the successful effort to overhaul the ethics laws and codes in Illinois when he served as a state Senator. Democrats said they saw him as a clean and nonpartisan figure to take up a hot button political issue. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "Barack Obama has a unique ability to walk into a crowd and make people listen."[4] Obama moved to quash any claims of hypocrisy by opponents by declaring that he would "pay the full costs of a flight taken on someone else's private plane, rather than pay the much cheaper price of a first-class ticket."[5]

Obama quickly pushed for a wide array of reforms, including the Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission Act of 2006, which would create an office of public integrity to conduct independent oversight of ethics violations by members of Congress. This proposal was not generally viewed favorably by Senators, as only two Democratic Senators - Minority Leader Harry Reid and John Kerry (D-Mass.) - signed on as co-sponsors. Obama responded to his bill's lack of support, "I think, understandably, my colleagues are concerned about the possibility of an independent commission being used to politicize ethics issues."[6] On March 29, 2006 the Senate voted down the independent oversight office in a 67-30 vote. [7] Senators Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and John McCain (R-Ariz.) had written the language for the proposal considered. The proposal's strongest opponents were current and former members of the Senate Ethics Committee.

Obama recommended the following reform initiatives for the lobbying reform package, which included earmark provisions from his Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act of 2006:

  • A prohibition on paid coordination of lobbying activities.
  • A ban on lawmakers' negotiating future employment as lobbyists.
  • A prohibition on advocating for earmarks in which the lawmaker has a financial interest.
  • A prohibition on buying votes with earmarks.
  • A requirement that earmarks be available for scrutiny during business days. [8]

None of these reforms were included in the final reform package.

When the final lobbying and ethics reform bill - the The Lobbying Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006 - finally came before the Senate, Obama was one of 8 Senators to vote against the bill. [9]

Obama said he was not pleased with the bill's final result, particularly the lack of an office of public integrity, and thought that the rest of the bill did not reach a level that could effect the culture that spawned Abramoff and Cunningham. He told a reporter, "Given that Mr. Abramoff just got five years in the pokey, the notion that this is the best we can do doesn't make any sense." [10]

Main article: Prospects for Ethics Reform in the 110th Congress

McCain's Letter to Obama

In the midst of the 20006 drive for ethics and lobbying reform legislation Sen. John McCain attacked Obama in a letter for failing to join McCain's bipartisan group to discuss and aim to implement reforms. McCain was writing in response to a letter from Obama that read:

"I know you have expressed an interest in creating a task force to further study and discuss these matters, but I and others in the Democratic Caucus believe the more effective and timely course is to allow the committees of jurisdiction to roll up their sleeves and get to work on writing ethics and lobbying reform legislation that a majority of the Senate can support." [11]

McCain responded:

"I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere. . . . "I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss . . . "I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party's effort to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness." [12]

Obama wrote back, "puzzled":

"I confess that I have no idea what has prompted your response. But let me assure you that I am not interested in typical partisan rhetoric or posturing. The fact that you have now questioned my sincerity and my desire to put aside politics for the public interest is regrettable but does not in any way diminish my deep respect for you nor my willingness to find a bipartisan solution to this problem."

Two days later while sitting at the same table to present reform proposals to the Senate Rules Committee McCain and Obama publicly made up with each other. McCain stated, "Sen. Obama and I are moving on." And Obama, used some humor to defuse the situation by referring to McCain as "my pen pal." [13]


On January 18, 2006, Sen. Obama introduced the CLEAN UP Act (S. 2179), which was referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration where no action was taken. The bill contained the following:

  • Require all conference committees to hold regular, public/televised meetings; require conference committees to give conferees adequate notice of the time and place of such meetings; require that all conferees be afforded the opportunity to participate in full and complete debates on the matters before the committee.
  • Require actual voting in conference committees and require the majority to allow the minority an opportunity to submit dissenting or minority views.
  • Require all legislation (bill, resolution, amendment, and conference report) to be placed on the internet for at least 72 hours prior to its consideration.
  • Requires that no appropriation bill will be considered unless a list of all earmarks in the bill and accompanying reports are made available to all Members and placed on the internet for at 72 hours prior to its consideration.
Main article: Ethics and transparency legislation (109th Congress)

Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006

On April 6, 2006, Sens. Obama, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.) introduced the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S.2590). The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to create a searchable online database of all governments contracts and has been hailed as a "Google" for federal spending (including loans, various grants, contracts, and other financial assistance).

According to the Washington Post, the bill will allow the database to be searchable by agency, geography, industry, congressional district and types of federal funding. This legislation was approved on Thursday, July 27, 2006, by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs. [14] It was stalled for over a month due to anonymous holds placed by Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). [15] Eventually, both senators dropped their holds, allowing the bill to pass by a voice vote on September 7, 2006. [16] It passed the House by voice vote on September 13, 2006. [17] The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush on September 26, 2006, and created the website

Main article: Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act


Executive branch


Campaign finance and election issues

Election reform


On January 31, 2007, Sen. Obama introduced the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007 in the Senate. The bill, passed by the House and still pending in the Senate, would establish criminal penalties for acts of voter deception. Those who knowingly disseminate false information with the intention of keeping others from voting would face up to five years in prison under the legislation. The legislation underwent hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee where it remains. Obama also filed an identical bill in 2006, but no action was ever taken.

Main article: Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007


Included as part of the act is an attempt at criminalizing robo-calls, or automated telephone calls, used in campaigns.

Main article: Robo-call legislation

Campaign finance

On January 30, 2007, Obama, along with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) introduced the Presidential Funding Act of 2007 (S.436), an attempt to update public financing of election laws. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Raise spending limits for the presidential primary and general election.
  • Increase the amount of public matching funds available during the primary process.
  • Allow earlier access to public funds in the primary process.
  • Provide additional funds to publicly financed candidates who are significantly outspent by privately financed candidates.
  • Increase the check-off from $3 to $10 for individuals and $6 to $20 for couples.
  • Prohibit national parties from raising or spending soft money for party nominating conventions.
Main article: Public financing of elections (U.S.)




Federal, state and local relations



Articles and resources

See also


  1. Senate Passes Coburn-Obama Bill to Create Internet Database of Federal Spending (news release). website of U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (September 8, 2006).
  2. Tory Newmyer, "Push for Lobby Database Fades" Roll Call, January 9, 2007.
  3. John Stanton. "Obama Releases Earmarks, Other White House Candidates Decline to Follow," Roll Call. June 21, 2007.
  4. Kathy Kiely, "Democrats see Obama as face of 'reform and change'," USA Today, March 5, 2006.
  5. Lynn Sweet, "Obama to Pay Full Fare on Private Jet," Chicago Sun-Times, January 21, 2006.
  6. Alexander Bolton, "Dems Cool on Obama Bill," Hill News, February 28, 2006.
  7. Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, "Senate Votes Down Outside Ethics Office," Washington Post, March 29, 2006.
  8. Alexander Bolton, "Sens. Obama, Coburn make unlikely duo," The Hill, March 27, 2006.
  9. Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, "Senate Passes Lobbying Bill," Washington Post, March 30, 2006.
  10. Tory Newmyer, "Senate Passes Lobby Reforms," Roll Call, March 30, 2006.
  11. Lynn Sweet, "McCain mocks Obama," Chicago Sun-Times, February 7, 2006.
  12. Lynn Sweet, "McCain mocks Obama," Chicago Sun-Times, February 7, 2006.
  13. Lynn Sweet, " McCain, Obama now 'pen pals'," Chicago Sun-Times blog, February 8, 2006.
  14. Rob Thormeyer, "Senator Seeks to Create a Single Spending Database," Washington Post, July 31, 2006.
  15. Elliott Fullmer, "Latest Update:Exposing Earmarks," Congresspedia editors' blog, September 7, 2006.
  16. Bill Allison, "Coburn-Obama Disclosure Bill Passes Senate... ," Under the Influence, September 7, 2006.
  17. Paul Kiel, "Pork Database Bill Passes House,", September 14, 2006.

External resources

External articles