America’s democratic institutions have been tested to their limits following the presidential election. Months of divisive rhetoric and actions led to a shocking and violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. At this defining moment in our nation’s history many are left wondering, what can we do?
Many of our peers in corporate America have started by suspending their financial contributions to elected officials who objected to the clear and certain outcome of the election.
But this moment in history should be about much more than organizations temporarily withholding political money to take a stand. This is an opportunity for us to pause and think, to look ahead at what policy measures can truly restore trust and confidence in our democracy.
What companies should be thinking about is policy reforms, not PAC checks.
At IBM we believe in engaging in policy, not politics. A company “should not try to function as a political organization in any way,” former IBM CEO Thomas Watson Jr. said in 1968.
This is why we have never had a political action committee, or PAC, and make no political donations. This policy doesn’t put us at a disadvantage. Instead it empowers us to advocate meaningful policies that are good for business, employees and all our stakeholders.
In 2021, IBM will advocate for bipartisan, good government reforms to ensure that this country’s institutions and traditions are strengthened, and we hope the business community will join us in supporting these reforms.
- Reforming the Presidential Transition Process: Congress should update the 1968 Presidential Transition Act to reduce reliance on historical traditions and customs in the weeks following a Presidential election. Clearer rules and requirements must be established to ensure a timely handoff between Administrations, even when election outcome uncertainty remains. Congress could, for example, create a temporary independent body empowered to quickly begin certain transition activities, even in advance of state certification or the meeting of the electoral college. This would help defuse political tension and ensure a timely handover of critical resources and information.
- Strengthening the Hatch Act: We urge Congress and the Biden Administration to work together to strengthen the Hatch Act, which is intended to provide a firewall between partisan politics and public servants. This law has not been updated in nearly a decade and should be modernized – and its enforcement stepped up – so that officials at all levels of government do not advance partisan political causes while performing official duties. And U.S. government buildings, paid for by the American people, should not be used for partisan political activities.
- Reforming the Federal Vacancies Act: Congress never intended “acting” appointees to be permanent, and shuffling political allies into acting leadership roles within federal agencies to evade accountability to Congress erodes trust in government and demoralizes federal workers. Congress should sharply curb this practice by updating the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.
- Reforming Financial Disclosure and Divestiture Laws: Public servants must be trusted to put the people first. When serving in government the focus of public officials must be on the people’s business, not their personal business interests. Congress should enhance financial disclosure, divestiture, and ethics requirements for the highest roles in government, providing the level of transparency and accountability that the American people deserve.
Second, IBM will step up its advocacy in 2021 for two measures we have called for previously, but which recent events make more urgent:
- Enacting Meaningful Policing Reform: The disparity between law enforcement’s response to events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th and racial justice protests last summer underscores the urgent need for meaningful police reform. IBM worked hard to advance policing reform legislation in 2020. In the new Congress, we will advocate for passage of legislation such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
- Reforming the CDA Section 230 Liability Shield: Illegal, illicit, and violent content should have no safe harbor online. IBM has long advocated for reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) so that online platforms must take “reasonable care” to restrict or prohibit such content in order to earn protection from legal liability. One approach that holds merit is the bipartisan PACT Act introduced by Senators Schatz (D-HI) and Thune (R-SD) in the last Congress.
These policy actions will not immediately heal the wounds that have been inflicted on our society and that are now felt so deeply by everyone who loves democracy. But they are a start, and IBM believes they can make a difference. Painful moments can spark positive change. We are hopeful these reforms can bolster trust and faith in our system of government, and IBM stands ready to work with Congress and the incoming Administration to make them happen.
-Christopher A. Padilla, Vice President, Government and Regulatory Affairs, IBM
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