That could impact one of his Republican supporters, ex-House Speaker John Boehner, who joined the K Street firm Squire Patton Boggs last month, less than a year after he left Congress. Boehner will serve as a “strategic adviser” in a firm that employs several of his former aides along with former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
“There are some good components there,” Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, said of Trump’s ideas. Noting that the group does not take sides in elections, Gilbert said the plan was notably missing any real effort to reduce the influence of big money in politics, a top priority for government reformers. Trump’s only mention of campaign-finance reform is a call to ban foreign lobbyists from raising money in U.S. elections, which Gilbert and Scherb each said was not a pressing issue.
Clinton has focused more on campaign-finance reform, but she has endorsed a proposal by Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin that would more narrowly address some of the revolving-door issues that Trump wants to tackle, including expanding the definition of what it means to be a lobbyist. Clinton’s campaign declined to comment specifically on Trump’s proposals.
Trump’s biggest challenge is that three of his five proposals require Congress to act on ethics reform, something it usually does only in response to a major scandal. And in the case of the five-year lobbying ban on lawmakers and their staff, he is banking on Congress choosing to sharply restrict itself in a way that could cost members hundreds of thousands of dollars in future salary.
“In our current congressional set-up, it’s tough to pass any law,” Gilbert said—let alone a bill that would hit lawmakers in their wallets. The proposals drew little immediate support from Trump’s ostensible allies on Capitol Hill; spokesmen for both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not return requests for comment.
Trump followed up his ethics plan on Tuesday with an even more surefire political winner: a call for a Constitutional amendment instituting congressional term limits. The idea was a cornerstone of the GOP’s Contract for America in 1994, but it has never come close to being enacted. It remains a popular plank for long-shot candidates who are trying to oust veteran incumbents and seize on the sustained unpopularity of Congress as an institution.
In many ways, however, term limits would empower the very lobbyists that Trump says he wants to rein in. Many members of Congress arrive in Washington with little knowledge of government or the details of policy, and those with less experience rely even more on staff and outside lobbyists to write the bills they vote on. While ensuring that Congress turns over more rapidly, term limits would strip the House and Senate of the institutional memory and policy expertise of their most senior members.
Three weeks before Election Day, those are probably the least of Trump’s concerns. He’s looking for a quick fix for his flagging campaign, to remind voters that he is the candidate of change and Clinton is the candidate of cronyism. Some of his ideas have merit, but it may be too late to convince the electorate that he should be the one to implement them.