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Richard W. Painter is a former White House chief ethics counsel running for U.S. Senate in Minnesota. He will be seeking the Minnesota DFL nomination in the August primary.

Richard is currently the S. Walter Richey Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities* and also served as vice-chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (on leave). Richard and his wife Karen live with their three children and their dog in Mendota Heights.


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Painter's Strongest Ethics Reform Package in US History



Richard's Ethics Reform Package

No Person Above the Law: The Strongest Ethics Reform Package in United States History

The corruption in Washington is staggering. The line between public service and private gain has been all but erased. Donald Trump and members of Congress have repeatedly used public office to personally enrich themselves and their families. Like a cancer, this ethical depravity has spread throughout the rest of the Executive Branch and throughout Congress.  

To confront the mounting crisis of improper influence, financial conflict of interest and other ethical violations in Washington, Richard will introduce a bill to do the following:

  1. Apply 18 U.S.C § 208, a previously-existing criminal statute that prohibits all unelected federal executive branch officers from participating in any matter with which they or a spouse have a personal financial conflict of interest, to the President, Vice President, and all members of the House and Senate.

  2. Require the President and all members of the House and Senate to divest from individual companies’ stocks, bonds and other securities that create conflicts of interests, and instead invest in broadly diversified stock mutual funds, life insurance, bank accounts, and other conflict free assets as defined in already existing Office of Government Ethics regulations.

  3. Expand the post-government-employment ban in 18 U.S.C § 207 to include a lifetime ban on former members of the House and Senate serving as paid lobbyists, and provide that violating this ban will result in criminal penalties.

  4. Impose criminal penalties on any U.S. government official who receives profits and benefits from foreign governments in violation of the prohibition in the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, and mandate that the Department of Justice investigate and prosecute persons violating this prohibition.

  5. Impose term limits (six years in the House, twelve years in the Senate) for Congressional leadership positions and committee chairmanships, and dismantle the seniority system that gives more power to long-serving Members.

  6. Strip pensions of any official found guilty of violating any federal anti-corruption statute, including but not limited to 18 U.S.C §§ 207 and 208, bribery and gratuity statutes, insider trading laws, and other similar provisions.


Fiscal Responsibility and Tax Reform

Fiscal responsibility is a classic Republican talking point, but since the 1980’s it has been nothing more than lip service. Most recently, the Trump tax cuts have demonstrated that the GOP cares more about paying back their billionaire donors than any kind of responsibility. (Read CBO projections for the Trump tax plan here). Despite the blatant falsehoods by the administration, these tax cuts will not increase the job supply, nor will they benefit the average American’s paychecks.

Richard has spoken out against irresponsible spending and bloated budgets that give handouts to special interests. In his first TV appearance ever while he was an undergraduate at Harvard, Richard asked a question on an episode of “Firing Line” which criticized the irresponsible deficit spending of the Reagan administration (see the transcript here).

Richard plans to craft and implement policy that is actually designed to help American workers and to improve the economy. Richard supports the following measures:

  • Replacing the disastrous Trump tax plan with a plan that decreases taxes on working-class Americans by increases the tax burden on millionaires and billionaires.
  • Eliminating expensive handouts to big corporations
  • Fighting to achieve a balanced budget

Regulation of the Financial Sector

Rather than hold the Wall Street CEOs responsible for the damage they caused in 2008, the Trump administration has appointed them to high office. Recently, they have worked to repeal safeguards put in place to prevent another financial collapse. In addition, the administration is actively working to gut the chief consumer protection body in the country, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In 2015, Richard co-authored “Better Bankers Better Banks” which advocated that officers of banks that become insolvent or banks found to have violated the law be personally liable for a portion of the loss or fine incurred by the bank.

Wall Street needs to be held responsible when their policies harm Americans. Richard supports:

  • Reinstating and solidifying the Dodd-Frank regulations on Wall Street
  • Improving consumer protection against exploitation from banks
  • Fining bankers, not shareholders for a bank’s misconduct (for more details, click here)
  • Denying any future bailout money to failing banks

Free Trade

We have seen throughout history that trade wars are destructive for nation’s economies. Our current administration seems to have missed this history lesson. Trump’s spat with China threatens to launch the US into a disastrous trade war which will inevitably harm the country.

Trade should be free and fair. To achieve this, Richard supports:

  • Policy that emphasizes fair treatment of labor
  • Respect for the environment
  • Protecting American industry from illegal dumping by foreign exporters. We can target illegal dumping of steel and other products through diplomatic actions; thus preventing a devastating trade war.

Farmers and Tariffs

Farmers export more goods than any other industry in America. They will be the hardest hit by the forthcoming tariffs imposed by this administration. (For a detailed analysis of the threat posed to Minnesota by these tariffs, click here).

Richard will listen and work with the farmers in our great state to best serve them in Washington. This includes

  • Resisting tariffs
  • Passing a responsible farm bill
  • Reducing unduly burdensome regulation.


The state of our environment is in an existential crisis. Climate change threatens our food supply, our sources of clean water, and our very ability to live on this planet. We have already seen some of its disastrous consequences, but those promise to be just the beginning. Some scientists believe we have reached a point of no return for the environment. Many politicians (at least those who do not deny climate change outright) have taken this as an invitation to abandon any commitment they once had to preserving the state of the Earth. Richard will not go so gentle into that dark night. In the Senate, Richard will work tirelessly to ensure that Minnesotans and citizens across the country will be able to enjoy the beauty and majesty of our lands for generations to come.

Copper/Nickel Mining

Minnesota is home to some of the most beautiful natural wilderness areas in the country. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness consists of nearly one million acres of pristine Minnesota lakes, forests, and wildlife. The Boundary Waters also contains vast quantities of metals such as copper and nickel, which foreign entities now seek to exploit and leave Minnesotans cleaning up for centuries.

The PolyMet-Glencore project has the appearance of a Minnesota operation, but the reality is that Glencore pulls the levers and will make off with the loot. Glencore is a Swiss-based international commodities broker, and the funding for the PolyMet project comes largely from wealthy foreign financiers like Nate Rothschild (of the Rothschild banking family), and seedy and corrupt figures such as Oleg Deripaska; the Russian oligarch who is now under sanctions from the U.S. government, and was a close associate to former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Likewise, the Twin Metals operation is controlled by Andronico Luksic, a Chilean billionaire who certainly has no interest in the wellbeing of Minnesotans or their cherished northern wilderness.

Minnesota has a complex, layered system of permitting and protections designed to safeguard its environment, and ensure that any resource extraction is in the interest of her citizens. Similarly, the checks and balances built into our system of representative democracy exists to ensure that the voices of citizens are heard, and representatives to just that: represent. On these mines, like so many other pressing issues, Richard has seen those safeguards, checks, and balances thwarted by politicians who have a direct financial interest in seeing the mining project succeed.

Copper/Nickel mining has serious environmental consequences. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is a political office, and we have little reason to be confident in their ability to protect Minnesota from these consequences. The legal framework governing these kinds of mines was designed to regulate taconite extraction, and it does not properly or address the concerns with sulfide mining. Additionally, Glencore’s Chairman, Tony Hayward, former Chairman of British Petroleum during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, gives us reason to question the company’s commitment to safety and environmental-consciousness.

For these reasons, Richard vehemently opposes H.R. 3115, a bill that passed the U.S. House in early December, 2017, to push through a land swap needed for the completion of the PolyMet mine. Enacting this legislation will void four pending lawsuits on the matter, preventing Minnesotans from questioning the legality of the land swap and eliminating the judicial branch's role.

Additionally, Richard opposes the MINER Act (H.R. 3905), which will prevent the completion of a two-year Forest Service study related to economic and environmental issues associated with mining near the Boundary Waters. This act will allow PolyMet to shoot first and ask questions later. Unfortunately, when it comes to our environment, “later” will be too late. Minnesotans have a right to know the kind of damage these mines will do to our rivers, lakes, and ecosystems before the monied interests in Washington push them through. The MINER Act also designates Minnesota as the only state in the nation unworthy of public lands protections, requiring Congressional intervention into decisions regarding public lands in Minnesota. We deserve better than that, and Richard will fight to make it so.

While preventing these mines is the smart environmental and economic choice, it comes with consequences. Minnesota’s rural areas are struggling to find gainful employment, and the PolyMet-Glencore projects would offer a small amount of jobs in those areas. But these are not the kinds of jobs that will solve the endemic problems in our rural regions. Read more about Richard’s Rural Revitalization Plan here.

Clean Energy

Apart from his dedication to conservation and protecting the environment, Richard also believes that we ought to focus on developing jobs that are sustainable. Donald Trump’s promise to bring coal mining back to the U.S. is disingenuous. We need to move forward and expand the creation of clean jobs across the state. Richard supports creating these jobs by expanding tax credits that can help grow solar energy farms across the state.

Today, clean energy jobs are the fastest growing subset of jobs in the United States with the greatest opportunity for exponential growth. Investing in clean energy will increase jobs in all areas of processing such as installation, manufacturing, sales and distribution, and project development. Clean energy investment is critical to the improvement of public health, sustainable economies and limiting the effects of climate change. More information on his plans to expand the development of clean energy jobs can be found on his Rural Revitalization Plan.

Richard also stands for fair, free, common sense trade policies that protect American jobs while promoting clean energy investment. The Trump tariffs threaten to eliminate Canadian imports of components of solar panels set for final manufacture in the U.S. - a move that will certainly cost American jobs. Using American resources is important to our economy, but the tariffs imposed by this administration will do nothing but increase the prices of goods while falsely propping up a sector of unsustainable jobs. Richard believes that clean energy jobs are essential to state and national economies, as well as the future of our environment. He supports trade policy that will grow the clean energy sector.

Finally, Richard believes the United States should be a leader in the global fight against climate change and rejoin the community of nations as a participant in the Paris Climate Accord. The United States ought to always be a role model on the global stage. By withdrawing from the Accord, Donald Trump indicated to the world that climate change is not an issue to be taken seriously. Not so. If we do not commit ourselves to developing and implementing bold, innovative policy to address climate change, the country and the planet will suffer.

Rural Revitalization Plan

Support small businesses

Small businesses are essential to the U.S. economy; without local businesses and entrepreneurs, the nation would be overtaken by large corporations with little regard for local communities. Richard will support small businesses by enforcing tax cuts, providing small government grants, and ensuring SBA loans as well as loans from local banks. Richard’s efforts to support small businesses will help facilitate a sense of community within Minnesota’s cities and towns, thus generating vibrant local economies. Most importantly, supporting small businesses will bring new job opportunities to rural communities.

Improve rural broadband

In the current globalized system, internet access is nearly essential for the success of small businesses and local communities. Small businesses in rural communities often have difficulties due to slow or absent internet access. According to a recent Minnesota Employment and Economic Development report, there are 252,000 Minnesota households that lack quality high-speed broadband service. A majority of these are in rural areas. From the same report, 26.55 percent of rural Minnesota households lack quality high-speed service, compared to less than two percent of Twin Cities metro area residents.

By pushing for increased funding for broadband in rural regions, Richard will help boost internet capabilities and help local small businesses be more competitive in the greater market. Increasing the efficacy of rural broadband will benefit local businesses and economies, bring an influx of new jobs, and revitalize the economy.

Encourage clean energy jobs

Clean energy is the future of jobs and economic development in the United States. Due to increased fossil fuels and greenhouse gases emitted by traditional energy sources such as burning coal, the environment is quickly deteriorating. To mitigate these negative impacts on the environment while revitalizing local economies and expanding job opportunities, Richard will push for the implementation of clean energy sources throughout Minnesota.

Today, clean energy jobs are the fastest growing subset of jobs in the United States with the greatest opportunity for exponential growth. Investing in clean energy will increase jobs in all areas of processing such as installation, manufacturing, sales and distribution, and project development. Clean energy is essential to ensure the longevity of our planet. Investing in clean energy sources will not only mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change, but will also create new jobs and lead to greater economic prosperity.

Trump’s tariffs on foreign imports will devastate the ability for American companies to manufacture green technology. We have begun to see these effects already. Richard opposes these tariffs and the trade wars that will inevitably ensue. Using domestic products and materials is important, but these tariffs will be catastrophic, and will surely rob Minnesota of clean jobs.

Invest in skilled workers

Skilled workers are essential to a flourishing economy and promoting job opportunities. Richard will encourage employment and training programs as well as adult education and literacy programs to invest in the capabilities of workers. Richard will invest in skilled workers and as such, will invest in small businesses to be more competitive in the global economy. Improving the capabilities of individual workers will make local businesses more competitive, increase jobs, and improve local and national economies.

Election Reform

Citizens, Not CEOs: Taking Money Out of Politics

Money in politics is a rot that is growing. The disastrous Citizens United decision gave free reign to corporations and lobbyists to buy influence with politicians. Commonsense solutions to the most pressing issues facing the country have been thwarted by monied interests. While many voters on both sides of the aisle have paid lip service to the issue, there has been no serious push on the federal level.

In the Senate, Richard would take the following steps to eliminate the insidious influence of money in politics:

  1. Introduce a bill requiring complete transparency of money in politics, including contributions to, 501(c)(3) organizations, 501(c)(4) organizations, PACs, Super PACs, and any dark money organizations engaging in communications intended to influence elections. All such contributions will be recorded by the FEC and made publicly available.

  2. Enact the Taxation Only With Representation statute giving every taxpayer the right to designate the first $200 of their taxes to the campaign(s) of his/her choice.

  3. Vote against the appointment of any Supreme Court nominee who will not, under oath, commit to overturning the decision on FEC vs. Citizens United.

  4. Provide funding to state legislatures to organize and sponsor televised debates for both the primary and general election of all federal and statewide offices, as well as any other offices at the discretion of the legislature.


Many people have described health care as the single greatest policy issue of our time. Affordable, quality health care for everyone is not only socially beneficial, it is a basic right. It is in the interest of the consumer and also the small business owner to ask the question: how do we get the highest-quality health care for the best price? How do you avoid having health-care issues interfere with the ability to start businesses?

The answer is single-payer health care. Richard supports the passage of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill (or whichever single-payer bill is on the table). This bill would decrease the price of health care while ensuring that every American has access to the care they need.

Additionally, Richard opposes the repeal of the ACA Medical Device Tax. Medical device companies provide invaluable products that save lives; but they are profit-driven corporations nonetheless, and it is too often that they drive up the costs of health care to unattainable levels. The Medical Device Tax helps balance the scales and keep down the cost of care.

For more information, see this video highlighting Richard’s positions on health care.


Painter Minnesota

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Richard Painter For United States Senate