Press releases

Statement of Nick Penniman: Donald Trump rides into the White House on a wave of populism and now it is time to reform the system

Media Contact

Cory Combs

Director of Media Relations

Following Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential contest early Wednesday morning, Issue One Executive Director Nick Penniman released the following statement:

Donald Trump rides into the White House on a wave of populism from voters residing in both the reddest red states and the long-neglected pockets of swing contests throughout the country. His campaign was fueled by voters’ burning desire to disrupt the status quo of Washington who continued with business-as-usual politics while jobs and economic opportunities disappeared from middle-class America.

Throughout the 2016 election cycle, Trump hammered the lobbyists and political donors who, he claimed, controlled his opponents. His labeling of Clinton as “crooked” was not merely limited to her email scandal. His plea to “drain the swamp” connected solidly. Bernie Sanders ran very successfully on a similar narrative, making money-in-politics and economic inequality at the center of his message. Polls concluded that voters believed reducing the power money holds over policymakers was a top-five issue as they went into November. Further, early voters said they were worried about the direction of the country, and looking for a “strong leader who can take the country back from the rich and powerful,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. Washington has not been willing to internalize these messages in the past; now they must.  

Those same disaffected voters who tipped Trump into the White House also waited hours in line to pass the first-of-its-kind anti-corruption ballot initiative in South Dakota, bringing sweeping changes to ethics and campaign finance laws in the state. In addition, it proposes a historic, citizen-funded election program paid for by tax credits. In Missouri, following deep-pocketed battles throughout the primaries and general election, voters reinstated state-level campaign finance limits once more by an overwhelming 2-to-1 ratio. Other measures also swept in a broad range of democracy reforms aimed at money in politics in Washington state, Maryland, California and elsewhere. The message, as encapsulated by the Missouri initiative’s name: “Return Government to the People.”

Now it is time for Donald Trump and the incoming elected leaders in the 115th Congress to bridge political divides in the country. We have already built such unity around the cause of fixing the broken political system, with a strong focus on money-in-politics reform. Members of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus, comprised of more than 150 former elected officials from both sides of the aisle, is working on a legislative framework accordingly.

We are reaching out to President-elect Trump, and other leaders, to promote it. We are hopeful they will, finally, hear the public’s cry for reform and work to improve integrity and reduce influence-peddling in Washington. Term-limits and new revolving door restrictions, as Trump has proposed in the past, are simply not enough. He should prioritize a bipartisan convening on Capitol Hill of current and former lawmakers to determine legislative solutions to address money in politics. The message of such a convening could be: “The current campaign finance system isn’t working for the American people, or for you, who have to spend so much time raising the money.” The bipartisan framework Issue One and its ReFormers Caucus are developing could guide the discussion.

Simultaneously, bolstered by his constitutionally-mandated powers as Chief Executive, he should:

  1. Create greater integrity in federal spending. Sign an executive order requiring federal government contractors to fully disclose all political spending, without waiting for action by Congress, to make sure people’s tax dollars are ethically and efficiently spent.
  2. Ban pay-to-play with cabinet members. Adopt a policy that states that Cabinet secretaries should not be part of the pay-to-play system and therefore will not attend political fundraisers during his presidency.
  3. Enforce the laws. Convene a blue-ribbon, bipartisan panel of respected leaders and retired administrative law judges to identify and make public recommendations for individuals to be nominated to the Federal Election Commission Additionally, nominate new, qualified commissioners to the Federal Election Commission who will vigorously enforce the law, to fill the seats of commissioners currently serving on expired terms
  4. Ensure ethical behavior. Immediately appoint an “Ethics Czar” to review executive branch ethics policies, including strengthening the ethics standards put in place by President Obama.

Politicians across the country Tuesday night were swept into office by voters of all political persuasions in a strong repudiation of a rigged system in a dysfunctional Washington. President-elect Trump and Congress must move forward immediately to restore the people’s faith in our democracy.