House Democrats Pass the Election Reform Bill: Here’s What’s In It

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The Democrats are the pro-democracy party, and they want all Americans to know it. The first piece of legislation they announced would be their first of the new Congress was HR1, or the For the People Act.

After multiple hearings, the House of Representatives passed the bill 234-193 this past Friday. Here’s what made it into the final bill, via Vox:

Campaign finance

  • Establishing public financing of campaigns, powered by small donations. Under the vision of the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), the federal government would provide a voluntary 6-1 match for candidates for president and Congress, which means for every dollar a candidate raises from small donations, the federal government would match it six times over. The maximum small donation that could be matched would be capped at $200. The most substantial change to HR 1 is this program now won’t be funded by taxpayer dollars as originally planned; instead, it will come from adding a 2.75 percent fee on criminal and civil fines, fees, penalties, or settlements with banks and corporations that commit corporate malfeasance (think Wells Fargo). Democrats are using this idea to push back on Republican attacks that taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing campaigns.
  • Supporting a constitutional amendment to end Citizens United.
  • Passing the DISCLOSE Act, pushed by Rep. David Cicilline and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, both Democrats from Rhode Island. This would require Super PACs and “dark money” political organizations to make their donors public.
  • Passing the Honest Ads Act, championed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Mark Warner (VA) and introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA) in the House, which would require Facebook and Twitter to disclose the source of money for political ads on their platforms and share how much money was spent.
  • Disclosing any political spending by government contractors and slowing the flow of foreign money into the elections by targeting shell companies.
  • Restructuring the Federal Election Commission to have five commissioners instead of six, in order to break political gridlock at the organization.
  • Prohibiting any coordination between candidates and Super PACs.

Ethics

  • Requiring the president and vice president to disclose 10 years of his or her tax returns. Candidates for president and vice president must also do the same.
  • Stopping members of Congress from using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment or discrimination cases.
  • Giving the Office of Government Ethics the power to do more oversight and enforcement and implement stricter lobbying registration requirements. These include more oversight of foreign agents by the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
  • Creating a new ethical code for the US Supreme Court, ensuring all branches of government are impacted by the new law.

Voting rights

  • Creating new national automatic voter registration that asks voters to opt out rather than opt in, ensuring more people will be signed up to vote. Early voting, same-day voter registration, and online voter registration would also be promoted.
  • Making Election Day a holiday for federal employees and encouraging private sector businesses to do the same, requiring poll workers to provide a week’s notice if poll sites are changed, and making colleges and universities voter registration agencies (in addition to the DMV, etc.), among other updates.
  • Ending partisan gerrymandering in federal elections and prohibiting voter roll purging. The bill would stop the use of non-forwardable mail being used as a way to remove voters from rolls.
  • Beefing up election security, including requiring the director of national intelligence to do regular checks on foreign threats.
  • Recruiting and training more poll workers ahead of the 2020 election to cut down on long lines at the polls.

What’s Next

To become law, the bill needs to pass the Senate. Of course, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he won’t bring the bill up for a vote in the Senate. Furthermore, he says he will use the bill to campaign against the Democrats in 2020.

First and foremost, call your Senators to let them know you are a supporter of this bill and that you want them to push their Senate colleagues to speak publicly about the importance of this bill, and to put the pressure on McConnell to bring it up for a vote.

Now as far as McConnell thinking this will help him in 2020, I think his motives are very clear. He clearly thinks he can raise money from big donors and corporations for 2020 because of this bill’s provisions regarding campaign finance reform. Think about it–he will say to them, the Democrats want to take the power to shape elections out of your hands and put them in the hands of small donors. Donate to the GOP, otherwise the Democrats could sweep Congress and the White House and make this bill a reality.

McConnell isn’t dumb. He probably can fundraise from that. But here’s the thing. I don’t think the average American voter thinks keeping the power in the hands of the wealthy is such a great idea. In fact, there are quite a number of surveys that say the opposite.

Please, let’s keep this bill in the minds of voters throughout this campaign season. Voters, of all stripes, need to know what the Democrats are for, and who exactly the Republicans are protecting. ‘Cause it sure ain’t the average voter.

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