Congressional Oversight

Whether in the executive branch or in Congress, the Revolving Door Project believes that political leaders need to think more creatively and energetically about how they can leverage the full range of their powers to advance the public interest. Over the last several years, this motivating principle has led us to dedicate significant time and energy to convincing the House Democratic majority of the need for congressional oversight that spotlights executive branch corruption and corporate wrongdoing. In the context of the Trump administration’s lawlessness and beyond, congressional oversight is a powerful — indeed essential — tool to uncover governmental and corporate abuse, enforce checks and balances, channel governmental resources towards issues of widespread public concern, and galvanize long-lasting political support. We at the Revolving Door Project believe that Congress must exploit this potential. 

Through op-eds, blog posts, letters, and interviews, we have sought to encourage congressional oversight at practically every turn. In all of that work — from pushing Rep. Richard Neal to request Trump’s tax returns and arguing in favor of impeachment to advocating aggressive pandemic-related oversight and meaningful investigation of the damage Trump caused to governing institutions and the civil service– our case has rested on a set of core observations:

Good Policy

Oversight has long been considered an essential component of congressional power and for good reason. In order to craft laws and continually institute necessary reforms, lawmakers need access to a wealth of information about the problems for which they seek solutions. Oversight also functions as a mechanism by which to enforce congressional will; investigatory powers help Congress to ensure that the laws it has written and passed are being carried out as intended.

Where voluntary compliance is not forthcoming, Congress has a variety of legal powers to ensure that it has access to the information it needs. Together with its considerable reputational and convening authority, these powers make Congress one of the most powerful fact finding institutions in the country. We at Revolving Door Project have consistently encouraged lawmakers to make use of this exceptional power to surface otherwise out of reach information about the Trump administration’s actions and corporate America’s behavior. Despite this administration’s unprecedented obstructionism, Congress nonetheless has the ability to obtain great swaths of information that are unavailable to almost any other party. 

Even when investigations do not lead directly to legislative action in the near-term, they may still produce clear real world results. It is not uncommon for both public and private sector officials to resign following appearances at particularly humiliating congressional hearings. Further, the very knowledge that Congress is investigating may discourage lawbreaking in the public and private sectors alike. 

Good Politics

For those lawmakers unconvinced by these benefits, there is at least one other reason to engage in aggressive, populist oversight: it’s great politics. As money floods our political system and even more overt forms of governmental and corporate corruption abound, many have lost faith that anyone in government has their interests at heart. Oversight that holds powerful actors — like practically any of this administration’s senior officials, BigTech, for-profit colleges, Wall Street, and on and on — to account for their transgressions can help to reverse the tide of cynicism by demonstrating that the government can work in the public interest. 

It is also a particularly powerful tool in the face of a presidential administration like Donald Trump’s. While Trump utterly failed at the task of being president, he successfully commanded the conversation over his four years in office. By inundating the public with erratic statements and alarming, often violent actions, Trump made it difficult to keep up or to make sense of what was happening. Oversight, however, could have helped lawmakers to organize these chaotic elements into a single, commanding narrative: in this case, that Trump worked from his first day in office to enrich friends and benefactors while contemptuously stomping on everyone else. 

Oversight in Trump’s Wake

Although Trump’s time in office has come to an end, there is an enduring need for oversight to uncover the full extent of the damage he caused. Although Trump waged many of his wars in public, lawmakers cannot ignore the possibility that other attacks were being carried out more quietly behind the scenes. Whether in the form of politicized hiring processes, corruptly awarded contracts, office reorganizations, or any number of other moves, left unaddressed this variety of attack could interfere with effective governance for years to come. 

For that reason, it will be essential that lawmakers resist the urge to simply move on from what has just occurred under Trump. Only by developing a comprehensive accounting of his administration’s abuses will it be possible to reverse them and ensure that they are not repeated. And for every Republican who cries that it is “politics” to identify new ways in which Trump’s corruption and incompetence weakened our country — if the facts have a political bias and the outcome is to punish a political party for its leader’s misdeeds, well, isn’t accountability what it is needed to make democracy work?

And if this means that the Biden Administration is on its toes to avoid repeating the post-presidency recriminations Trump is owed — that would be a nonpartisan good thing!

Below you will find some of the project’s writing and research on congressional oversight. For a selection of quotes and interviews on the topic, please visit this page.

May 24, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter

Toni Aguilar Rosenthal


Congressional OversightEthics in GovernmentGovernance

Who’s Going To Keep Corporations Honest?

The Washington Post last week ran a delightful little synopsis of Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) true passion: congressional oversight. Bernie is revered for his willingness to hold corporations and their CEOs accountable for their villainy, and how he does so with extraordinary dexterity. Be it by ruthlessly interrogating Big Pharma executives for their murderous price gouging of lifesaving treatments or humiliating Howard Schultz for being a whiny billionaire union-buster, Bernie Sanders makes congressional oversight hearings fun. The fun he makes for himself and for the public he strives to give real voice to through speaking truth to power is not just gratifying; it also helps sharpen congressional oversight into a tool to actually achieve something.

May 17, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter

Hannah Story Brown


ClimateCongressional OversightEthics in GovernmentExecutive Branch

Progressive Counteroffers to Manchin’s Dirty Deal, Debt Ceiling Edition

Manchin’s dirty deal is back on the table, again, according to coverage of the play-by-play of Biden and congressional leaders’ not-not-negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. Whether or not Manchin’s proposal gets packaged with a debt ceiling deal, it seems the question is when, not if, it gets taken up. That’s due in large part to Biden and Schumer’s unjustifiable fealty to Manchin, the administration’s chief saboteur, whose latest pledge is to block all of Biden’s EPA nominees.

April 26, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter

Hannah Story Brown


Congressional OversightEthics in Government

Tyranny, Thy Name is SCOTUS

We can be forgiven for thinking that Clarence Thomas set a high-water mark for judicial corruption that would be hard for his colleagues to surpass. Just yesterday, a new investigation from The Intercept and the Project on Government Oversight deepened what we know of Thomas and billionaire donor Harlan Crow’s financial ties, highlighting how Crow purchased a second citizenship in the tax haven island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, which makes tracking Crow’s financial transactions—including his gifts to Thomas—extremely difficult. The investigators point out that this will complicate Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden’s request that Crow provide evidence that he “complied with all relevant federal tax and ethics laws.” Nothing worrisome about a top U.S. justice being financially entangled with a billionaire who changed his citizenship to evade U.S. law!

April 25, 2023 | Common Dreams

Dylan Gyauch-Lewis Toni Aguilar Rosenthal


Congressional OversightEthics in GovernmentSupreme Court

Clarence Thomas and Democratic Fecklessness

Earlier this month, ProPublica released a report documenting decades of undisclosed lavish gifts Justice Clarence Thomas and his family received from Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow. These gifts included a yacht trip around Indonesia, flights on Crow’s private jet, free stays at Crow’s private country club, and more. One week later, the news outlet published a follow-up report detailing how Thomas also sold property to Crow without disclosing it. Thomas’s mother has continued to reside at that property rent-free while Crow funds significant renovations.

April 20, 2023 | The American Prospect

Hannah Story Brown


ClimateCongressional OversightCorporate CrackdownEthics in Government

Exxon’s Unethical Supreme Court Play

As the revelations of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s flagrant corruption continue to unspool, scrutiny of the weak ethics rules binding the Court has intensified. The Senate Judiciary Committee is supposed to oversee the Court, but it has proven itself not remotely up to the task of rooting out judicial corruption. And amid this disturbing situation, a Supreme Court conference this Friday provides an opening for Court conservatives to try to game their few ethical limits in plain sight.

April 12, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter

Hannah Story Brown


Congressional OversightCorporate CrackdownEthics in Government

This Era of Elite Impunity Must End

What is it called when one of the nine most powerful judges in the U.S.—a man whose title is literally Justice—has routinely accepted secret private jet rides and luxury yacht vacations from a billionaire right-wing mega-donor for over two decades? What does it mean that this was not disclosed, in violation of the Ethics in Government Act? If the ruling class wants the public to believe that the rule of law means anything to them, then the answer must be “breaking the law,” necessitating investigations, trials, and professional consequences.