Udall, Heinrich Introduce CORE Act to Ensure Transparency in COVID-19 Response

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.) to introduce the Coronavirus Oversight and Recovery Ethics (CORE) Act (S. 3855), legislation that would ensure stronger oversight, accountability, and transparency in the federal government's response to the COVID-19 crisis. The lawmakers are calling for the provisions of the CORE Act to be central to any future relief bill to ensure taxpayer dollars do not benefit interests of the wealthy or well-connected to the exclusion of the American people. 

“New Mexicans deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent by the Trump administration as workers, small business owners, and families across the U.S. fight to stay financially afloat amid the continued spread of COVID-19,” said Udall. “I fought hard in Congress to pass emergency legislation that would provide an economic lifeline to American families and hardworking New Mexicans– not to benefit the well-connected friends of this administration. Concerning reports of the Trump Department of Treasury doling out taxpayer dollars to the wealthy and large corporations makes it abundantly clear that Congress must pass the independent oversight provisions in the CORE Act to stop this government corruption and put the American people front and center for urgent relief.”

“The Trump administration needs to stop treating the federal government like a marketplace to give handouts to their friends – especially in the midst of the greatest public health crisis of our generation,” said Heinrich. “The COVID-19 pandemic has placed so many across the state in financial jeopardy and we need oversight that ensures the administration is providing assistance to hardworking New Mexicans – and not bailing out wealthy corporations. I am proud to introduce the CORE Act to limit the actions of corrupt offenders and will keep fighting to improve transparency on how the administration is delivering COVID-19 relief and aid.”

Since unveiling draft legislation on May 12, 2020, wide support has grown for Congress to pass the CORE Act which now has endorsements from 57 organizations, 8 Senate original co-sponsors and 18 House co-sponsors.

The full bill text is available here. A two-page summary of the bill is available here. A letter of support signed by over 50 organizations led by Public Citizen is available here.

Joining Udall and Heinrich as original cosponsors of the CORE Act, authored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) are Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Joining the bill as co-sponsors in the House of Representatives are Representatives Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Max Rose (D-N.Y.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Susan Wild (D-Pa.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Josh Harder (D-Calif.), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), Kim Schrier, M.D. (D-Wash.), and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.).

The CORE Act would:

  • Prohibit Conflicts of Interest: The bill addresses and eliminates conflicts in the selection or hiring of contractors or advisors and the distribution of relief grants and loans, similar to the conflicts provisions in the 2008 TARP bailout. The bill further requires Federal ethics officials to impose revolving door restrictions on officials involved in the administration of relief; requires White House task force members who work on pandemic response to file public reports detailing their financial interests; and expands the scope of CARES Act conflict of interest prohibitions on bailout assistance going to certain companies affiliated with senior government officials to include small business aid and additional senior officials. The bill provides an additional $25 million to the Office of Government Ethics to administer these rules.
  • Empower & Protect Inspectors General: The bill requires that inspectors general (IGs) can only be fired for good cause and requires the President to inform Congress when any IG, including an acting IG, is removed from their post. The bill further requires that IG vacancies be filled automatically by the first assistant to the last IG, and that acting IGs enjoy civil service protections, ensuring that they have some recourse if they face retaliation. Any member of the staff of an unlawfully fired IG would be allowed to file suit to challenge the firing, as would any member of the public harmed as the result of such action. The President's decision to fire or otherwise discipline an IG or acting IG would trigger an automatic, public review by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency Integrity.
  • Strengthen the Congressional Oversight Commission: The bill grants the Congressional Oversight Commission, which was established in the CARES Act, with subpoena authority for testimony and documents and expands its jurisdiction to include all COVID-19 relief funding, including the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program.
  • Strengthen CARES Act Executive Branch Accountability & Oversight Entities: The bill requires the Treasury Secretary to submit a weekly list of any instances in which the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Relief (SIGPR) or the Pandemic Relief Accountability Committee (PRAC)-both established in the CARES Act-believe the executive branch has unreasonably denied them information in the course of their oversight. If the Treasury Secretary omits or misrepresents instances of wrongdoing to Congress, he would be liable for perjury. If the Treasury Secretary fails to provide a required filing, the bill prevents the Secretary and any other senior political appointee in the Treasury Department from being paid.
  • Protect Whistleblowers: The bill establishes strong whistleblower protections for private sector workers (including essential workers) and government contractors who may witness waste, fraud, or abuse or be victims of misconduct related to Coronavirus relief. These provisions, modeled after the whistleblower protections Congress included in the 2009 Recovery Act, would protect Americans who call out wrongdoing, protect against all retaliation, and establish a safe, secure, and anonymous process for whistleblowers' claims to be investigated by OSHA. The bill also establishes a direct channel for whistleblowers to submit complaints directly to the SIGPR, PRAC, and the Congressional Oversight Commission. The provision to protect whistleblowers was drafted with Senator Harris.
  • Restrict and Disclose Lobbying & Political Spending: The bill requires lobbyists to make monthly disclosures regarding all lobbying related to COVID-19 relief spending or lending. The bill also codifies the Obama Administration's restrictions on Recovery Act lobbying activity, which would restrict all COVID-19 relief lobbying activity to public, written submissions and prohibit closed door meetings and phone calls between government officials and companies seeking relief. Monthly disclosures would include any documents provided by those companies to government officials, including White House staff. Additionally, any company that receives bailout money would be prohibited from engaging in political spending or lobbying expenditures for a least a year after any loan is fully repaid. Finally, the bill bolsters the ability of the Justice Department to enforce lobbying requirements under this section.
  • Improve Transparency & Disclosure for Bailout Funds: The bill dramatically improves transparency about where bailout funds are going. It requires recipients of bailout funds, including contractors and grantees, to provide regular, public reporting about how that money is being used. The bill codifies the Federal Reserve Board's announcement that it will disclose the names and amounts borrowed for each participant in their lending facilities backstopped with CARES Act money and requires recipients to provide a detailed description of how the assistance was used. The bill requires recipients to disclose compensation and workforce data, including the mean, median, and minimum wages of all non-executive employees; the number of workers before and after the receipt of assistance; and the salaries of executives, including bonuses and capital distributions. The bill further requires giant corporations that receive a bailout to disclose whether they have been charged with violations of federal law and the nature of those alleged violations. It also ensures the Paycheck Protection Program actually helps small businesses rather than giant or well-connected companies by requiring the Small Business Administration to publicly disclose on its website, on a weekly basis, basic information about lenders and recipients, including loan amounts. Finally, the bill automatically discloses the text of lucrative contracts held by companies involved in the administration of relief.
  • Strengthen Enforcement: The bill allows any individual harmed by a company's misuse of bailout funds to seek recourse through the courts to ensure that harmed parties, like workers fired after a company committed to not fire anyone after receiving bailout funds, have the ability to bring private lawsuits and seek damages against bailout recipients who do not adhere to bailout terms. The bill also holds senior executives of companies that violate bailout terms personally liable to taxpayers, including by having their executive compensation seized.

CORE Act endorsements include Accountable.US; African American Ministers in Action; American Family Voices; Americans for Financial Reform; Campaign for Accountability; Center for Biological Diversity; Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW); Clean Elections Texas; Coalition to Preserve, Protect & Defend; Common Cause; Daily Kos; DemCast USA; Democracy Initiative; Democracy 21; Earthworks; Ambassador (ret.) Norman Eisen, White House Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform. 2009-11; End Citizens United/ Let America Vote Action Fund; Equal Justice Society; Financial Accountability and Corporate; Transparency Coalition (FACT); Fix Democracy First; Free Speech for People; Global Witness Government Accountability Project; Government Information Watch; Greenpeace USA; Indivisible; International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR); League of Women Voters of the United States; Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN); Main Street Alliance; Mainers for Accountable Leadership; Mount Zion Community Outreach; MoveOn.org; National Association of Social Workers; NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice; New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics; Oil Change International; Open the Government; Oxfam America; Norman J. Ornstein; Richard W. Painter; Patriotic Millionaires; Peace Action; People for the American Way; Progressive Democrats of America; Project on Government Oversight (POGO); Public Citizen; Publish What You Pay-US; Sierra Club; SMART Elections; Stand Up America; Transparency International U.S. Office; James A. Thurber; Union of Concerned Scientists; Voices for Progress; 20/20 Vision; and 350 Humboldt.