I have not been in Washington long but I've been there long enough to know that it's broken and we need to fix it.
As I travel throughout New York and listen to my constituents, it's clear that people have very little faith that Congress is working to solve their problems. Frankly, when they look to Washington they see a lot of people who are more concerned with scoring political points than improving lives and solving problems.
When I was first elected to the House in 2006, it was important to me to send a clear message to the people of NY-20: I wanted to be a representative for the people and shed some light on their government, so I became the first member of Congress to post my schedule, my financial disclosures and my earmark requests all online. Two years later, Speaker Pelosi made it a requirement for members of the House to post their earmark requests online.
I find that when you open the door toward openness and transparency, a lot of people will follow you through.
That's why I'm leading the way on an agenda of reforms that I believe will shine a light on the process and create real openness and transparency so that we can return some accountability to Washington that is sorely lacking today. I believe that through these reforms, all of us in Congress can be better representatives of the people and restore Americans' faith in government again.
But you know that the entrenched special interests in Washington won't hold themselves accountable. I need your help to show my colleagues that the American people demand transparency. I hope you'll join me. Together, we can pass a real reform agenda to change the way Washington works.
This agenda is made up of 4 core reforms:
1. Make Federal Funding Requests Fully Transparent and Searchable
When it comes to transparency, I have always done my best to lead by example, and my reform agenda starts by making the earmark process 100 percent transparent. I've authored legislation with my colleague, Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, that creates an easily searchable earmark database.
Under this legislation, lawmakers will have to disclose the amount of their initial request, the amount approved by Committee and the amount approved in final passage. They will also need to disclose the type of organization receiving the funding, what they will use it for, and justify why they need taxpayer dollars to fund their project. If everyone in America can easily see who and what their lawmakers are requesting taxpayer money for, we can keep elected officials honest, end the days of political, special interest favors, and reduce wasteful spending.
I'm proud that this bipartisan legislation is being co-sponsored by 26 members of the Senate and 28 reform organizations, including The Sunlight Foundation, Center for Responsive Politics, the Liberty Coalition, and the Project on Government Oversight.
2. Reduce Corporate Special Interest Influence on Elections
Next, we have to get wealthy, corporate special interest influence out of our elections. We were dealt a serious blow last year in the Citizens United Supreme Court case that gave private corporations unprecedented power to spend limitless amounts of money to buy elections.
Even in the age of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, corporate special interests have spent over a billion dollars to influence our elections. They spend millions on nasty, negative advertising that poisons our election process, disenfranchises voters, and overly influences politicians. Politicians must be accountable to our constituents, not corporate campaign contributors.
So to help keep our elections fair and honest, I am an original cosponsor of the DISCLOSE Act - legislation that would reverse the Citizens United decision and require corporations to stand by their political actions the same way candidates do.
• If a corporation wants to run an advertisement during a political campaign, the CEO would have to appear at the end of the ad and approve the message.
• If an advocacy organization is behind the ad, the head of the organization, and whoever is funding the ad would have to appear in the ad and approve it. They would also have to list the top five funders paying for the ad.
• Foreign-owned companies would be banned from spending unlimited sums of money through their U.S.-based subsidiaries.
• No company with government contracts with over $50,000 could spend money on elections, and no company taking any taxpayer-funded assistance, such as TARP money, could spend money on elections.
3. End Automatic Congressional Pay Raises
Next, we need to end automatic pay raises for members of Congress. Hardworking, middle class workers are never guaranteed an annual pay raise, and neither should their leaders in Congress.
But over the last two decades, career politicians have made out pretty well. From 1991 to 2007, Congress voted to raise its own pay 11 times, raising its annual salary by a total of $63,600, according to the Congressional Research Service. During my entire time in Congress, I've opposed the automatic pay raise. This past year, I co-sponsored legislation to permanently end the automatic pay raise and now, I'm joining with a dozen of my Senate colleagues to write to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take up and pass similar legislation in the House (pdf).
4. Ban Anonymous Holds on Legislation
As the last step in my agenda, we need to take steps toward ending the corrosive culture of obstructionism and gridlock that holds Congress back from doing the job we were sent to Washington to do.
New Yorkers everywhere tell me one of the things that frustrates them the most is the inability of Congress to get anything done. One way we can help solve this problem is to ban the practice of placing anonymous holds on legislation.
Republicans currently have dozens of anonymous holds on President Obama's federal court nominations, and countless more on other legislation before the U.S. Senate. These holds bring the legislative process to a screeching halt, with no way to hold the nameless obstructionist accountable.
Together, with a broad, bipartisan group of 67 of my colleagues, I've written to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging them to ban the practice of anonymous holds.
We simply can't afford to be held back by corrosive legislative loopholes that keep us from doing our jobs. The stakes are just too high.
These are just a few ideas that I believe will bring some transparency and accountability to Washington. Everyday families need us moving forward on an agenda that works for them, but too often the culture in Washington prevents us from moving forward on solutions. My reform agenda would change the way business is conducted in Congress and make sure everyday people get the representation they deserve.
But we'll never get the government we deserve without a fight. That's why I hope you'll join my effort to change the way Washington works and bring real transparency to Congress.
Thanks for all your activism. Together, we can make Washington more effective, more transparent and more progressive.
Follow Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SenGillibrand