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As U.S. lawmakers fight over what some call a $500 billion “slush fund” in a proposed coronavirus relief bill, a leading anti-corruption group is urging Congress to include tough safeguards that will protect against “self-interested parties taking advantage of this emergency for their own benefit.”
Transparency International warns that failure to include protections against profiteering and self-dealing by government officials and corporate players will undercut efforts to blunt the coronavirus pandemic’s medical and economic devastation.
“During crises like this, when quick decisions are necessary to move vast amounts of resources to address a growing pandemic, there is a heightened risk of fraud and abuse,” Gary Kalman, director of Transparency International U.S., said in a written statement. “Special interests should never be driving decisions, but especially not when the stakes are so high.”
Transparency International is a non-profit organization with chapters in more than 100 countries.
In a letter to Republican and Democratic members of Congress, the group details 25 anti-corruption measures that it says should be included in the legislation.
These include provisions that would:
- require companies getting money from the bailout package to reveal their true owners. This would prevent corrupt actors from hiding their dealings by using anonymous “shell companies” as fronts – a problem that the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its media partners have exposed in the Panama Papers and other investigations of offshore financial secrecy.
- forbid federal funds from going to companies controlled by members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump, along with their family members. The only exception would be if “the expenditure was necessary for the security of that individual or family member.”
- ensure protections for whistleblowers and expand federal freedom-of-information requirements to private companies getting bailout money.
Efforts to pass a $2 trillion coronavirus bill have stalled as Democrats and Republicans clash over a Republican-proposed “stabilization fund” that would funnel $500 billion to airlines and other distressed industries.
Democrats say the GOP proposal is a no-strings-attached giveaway to Wall Street banks and other corporations that doesn’t do enough for health care workers and millions of people who have lost their jobs.
Republicans have emphasized the need to move quickly, accusing Democrats of holding up legislation that is needed to save lives and ease economic woes.
In its letter to Congressional leaders, Transparency International said:
“History tells us that in crises, when decisions regarding vast amounts of resources are being made quickly, there is a heightened risk of fraud and abuse. Self-interested players, given the opportunity, will take advantage of a crisis by pushing unrelated agendas that, at best, distract and, at worst, undermine the health and safety of our communities.”
Transparency International also urged Congress to minimize the pandemic’s impact on the 2020 elections by directing money to states to fortify their election infrastructures. It says Congress should require that all states extend their voter registration deadlines and set up online voter registration systems.