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Position Paper: "Jimmy Carter's Code of Ethics"

March 01, 1976

The two questions I hear again and again across this country are: "Can our government be competent?" "Can our government be honest and decent and open?" I have to say that a majority of people would say no. This is the first time since polling was started that a majority of our people say that our national and economic status will be worse in 5 years than it is now. But we don't need to be pessimistic.

I have run the Georgia government in a tough, businesslike way. As a scientist, businessman, planner and farmer, I've managed it tightly and brought about some dramatic changes in its costs, long-range planning and budgeting techniques and organizational structure. We cut administrative costs more than 50 percent in Georgia. We abolished 278 out of 300 agencies and departments. So I know it is possible to run an efficient government.

We ought not to lower our standards in government. Our government in Washington ought to be an inspiration to us all and not a source of shame. I want to spell out to you a number of things that can be done.

An all-inclusive "Sunshine Law" similar to those passed in several states, should be implemented in Washington. Meetings of federal boards, commissions and regulatory agencies must be opened to the public, along with those of congressional committees. The only exceptions should involve narrowly defined national security issues, unproven legal accusations or knowledge that might cause serious damage to the nation's economy.

Broad public access, consonant with the right of personal privacy, should be provided to government files. Maximum security declassification must be implemented.

The activities of lobbyists must be more thoroughly revealed and controlled, both within Congress and the executive department agencies. The new lobbying law should apply to those executive agencies and departments which are not now covered as well as to the Congress. Quarterly reports of expenditures by all lobbyists who spend more than $250 in lobbying in any 3-month period should be required. The act should include any lobbying expenditures aimed at influencing legislation or executive decisions and should cover those who lobby directly, solicit others to lobby, or employ lobbyists in their own behalf.

The sweetheart arrangement between regulatory agencies and the regulated industries must be broken up, and the revolving door between them should be closed. Federal legislation should restrict the employment of any member of a regulatory agency by the industry being regulated.

All requests for special government consideration by private or corporate interests should be made public, and decisions should be made only on the basis of merit.

Complete revelation of all business and financial involvement of all major officials should be required, and none should be continued which constitute a possible conflict with the public interest. I have released an audit of my personal finances and will do so annually throughout my term of office. I will insist that the same requirement apply to the Vice President and to those appointed to major policy making positions in my administration. As President, I will seek legislation to make such disclosure mandatory.

Everyone who serves in a position of policy making ought to reveal to the public his or her financial holdings, where his or her riches are invested, and where his or her special interests are, so that no conflict with the public interest will exist

Public financing of campaigns should be extended to Members of Congress.

Fines for illegal campaign contributions have often been minimal. They should be at least equal to the amount of the illegal donation.

Absolutely no gifts of value should ever again be permitted to a public official. A report of all minor personal gifts should be made public.

All diplomats, federal judges and other major officials should be selected on a strict basis of merit.

Independent, blue-ribbon, judicial selection commissions should be established to recommend persons considered best qualified for appointment as federal judges and prosecutors, and, as President, I will make my selection from those recommended.

The Attorney General and all his or her assistants should be barred from any political activity. He or she should be given the full prerogatives and authority and independence that were recently given to the special prosecutor. The Attorney General should be appointed by the President, with the confirmation of the Senate, and should not be removed except for malfeasance.

During the campaign and as President, I will make myself available to the news media. Press conferences will he held monthly or more often throughout my administration.

I will propose to the Congress that the members of my Cabinet appear regularly before both Houses, preferably in joint session, to answer questions from Senators and Representatives. I will also request that these sessions be available for live broadcast.

Requests to the IRS for income tax returns by anyone, from the President down, should be recorded. Access to this essentially private information should be strictly circumscribed.

Maximum personal privacy for private citizens should be guaranteed.

As President, I will be responsible for the conduct of the Executive Branch of government. Errors or malfeasance will be immediately revealed, and an explanation given to the public, along with corrective action to prevent any recurrence of such actions. The same responsibility for campaign actions will be assumed by me as a candidate.

There is only one person in this nation who can speak with a clear voice, who can set a standard of morals, decency and openness, who can spell out comprehensive policies and coordinate the efforts of different departments of government, who can call on the American people for sacrifices and explain the purpose of that sacrifice and the consequences of it. That person is the President. The President ought to be personally responsible for everything that goes on in the Executive Branch of government, whether that be the appointment of major officials, the clear description of policy, the relationship of the Executive with Congress, the revelation of mistakes and mismanagement, if any, or violations of the law, should they occur, unfairness on the part of regulatory agencies and so forth.

Jimmy Carter, Position Paper: "Jimmy Carter's Code of Ethics" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347562

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