Bipartisan bill wisely would bolster presidential transparency

It is presumptively good, albeit with rare exceptions, when not just bipartisan but major cross-ideological agreements emerge on Capitol Hill. When the agreements involve ethics and the limitation of opportunity for executive abuses, that’s even better.

A bipartisan bill introduced last week in the House Oversight Committee, therefore, looks like reason to celebrate. Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY), a staunch conservative, and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), an outspoken liberal, put forth the Presidential Ethics Reform Act to bolster transparency and accountability for future presidents and vice presidents.

“In addition to requiring disclosure of conflicts of interest while in office, the bill requires presidents and vice presidents to disclose foreign payments, expensive gifts, loan transactions, and tax returns during the two-year period prior to time in office, during time in office, and for two years following departure from office,” the committee’s press release reads. “The bill also requires presidents and vice presidents to make disclosures for immediate family members who receive foreign payments, expensive gifts, or loans.”

Such transparency might have mitigated recent controversies involving both the children of former President Donald Trump and especially of President Joe Biden or, perhaps, made it easier to condemn or penalize unethical behavior. The bill also would require disclosure when family members accompany the president or vice president on official travel and, importantly, to disclose if that family travel involves business purposes.

The latter, of course, would have pertained to then-vice presidential son Hunter Biden’s trip to China on Air Force Two while he sought business worth millions of dollars.

Prior Trump secrecy, too, would have been avoided if this bill already were law. The legislation would require presidents and vice presidents to disclose tax returns for the two years preceding their time in office, for their duration of their service, and for two years thereafter.

“The American people deserve to ensure our public offices are not for sale,” Comer said.

The result would “empowe[r] the public to evaluate our leaders’ behavior for themselves,” Porter said. “These reforms will help restore Americans’ trust in government and strengthen our democracy.”

In this, both Porter and Comer are wise. The American presidency has evolved into the free world’s most powerful position, both because the United States is so large and strong and because the founders’ intended balance of power within American government has been skewed through the years in favor of the executive.

Concentration of too much power in anyone’s hands is an invitation to abuse. The American presidency is not (yet) inherently abusive, but the opportunity for abusiveness is significantly high. And even when the actions aren’t abusive, the public, not illogically, has become cynical and assumes that executive secrets are likely nefarious.


Transparency helps cure that cynicism and, as Porter said, slows or stops the erosion of public trust in the U.S. constitutional system that, despite human failings, has proved remarkably practical and just.

Every bill, of course, deserves scrutiny, and most could use some tweaking. This is no exception. Nonetheless, congressional leaders should make sure the Presidential Ethics Reform Act receives that scrutiny quickly and, unless unexpected major problems are found, that it is put on a fast track toward enactment.

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