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Sasse Wants to Make Release of Presidential Candidates' Tax Returns Mandatory

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is introducing a wide-ranging series of ethics bills today that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns and try to curb big money influence in politics by banning members of Congress from lobbying after they step down from office.

Sasse wrote in USA Today that since the 2016 election “not only is the swamp still here — it’s gotten swampier.”

The senator cited indictments against Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) on charges of insider trading and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) on allegations of using campaign funds for personal expenses, the white-collar felony convictions of President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and attorney Michael Cohen, and enrichment of the Clinton Foundation through former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s position.

In addition to requiring presidential candidates’ tax returns be released, the new legislation would prohibit cabinet members and their immediate family from soliciting donations from foreign sources and would create a public database of congressional settlements related to harassment, discrimination or other types of misconduct. Members of Congress would be banned from buying or selling stocks while in office, and would be under a lifetime lobbying ban as “getting elected to the U.S. Congress should be an opportunity to serve your constituents and the country, not a stepping-stone to a cushy job on K Street.”

Sasse told CNN on Wednesday that he predicted the bills “are going to make everybody mad.”

“Frankly every election cycle people talk a lot about draining the swamp and then nobody ever does it. It’s a campaign issue and in a governance issue; nobody’s making progress and the American people have more and more distrust,” he said.

The Republican noted that the tax returns provision “has been a norm of American politics for decades,” and noted times President Trump said he would release his returns and then backtracked.

“Once he got elected …he said the people have lost interest. I think there’s a lot of distrust,” Sasse said. “We should release them. But on the other side of the aisle, there have been a bunch of Democrats probably frustrated as well — Hillary Clinton as secretary of State had lots of public trust responsibilities since she has family members out there making speeches for six figures and enriching the Clinton Foundation at the same time.”

“There’s just a lot we need to do to drain this swamp and to tackle the culture of corruption that’s in Washington D.C. because public distrust is only going to get worse in an era of more and more not just Russia but Chinese information operations against Washington, D.C., and against public trust in America.”

On the lobbying ban, Sasse argued that the Founders envisioned “the world where the kinds of people who represent the American people in Washington, D.C., do it as a public service for a time, not as a business proposition for how they can cash out afterwards.”

“People are supposed to want to go back to their Mount Vernon afterwards. And if they don’t want to do that, they shouldn’t do these jobs. These are jobs of public trust. You should prefer to be from where you’re from, come here and serve for a while and go back home,” he added.

Trump recently complained on Twitter about the indictments against Collins and Hunter. Sasse said the “core problem” was Trump using terms like “the Jeff Sessions Justice Department.”

“No, it’s actually the people’s Justice Department. It’s the United States Department of Justice and it’s populated by lots of career officials that are there as public servants and we want justice to be blind,” he said. “We don’t want one set of rules for a majority party and one set of rules for a minority party, and then elections flipped that, now we got different sets of rules.”