HR 1 would help restore the promise of our democracy

• Jan 08, 2019

Throughout my time in Congress, I have enjoyed sitting down on a regular basis with the Capital Gazette editorial board to discuss a wide variety of issues that matter to residents of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

One consistent theme is that our democratic institutions have lost their footing and are increasingly unresponsive to the needs of average Americans, that Washington has been captured by special interests and lawmaking has become an insider’s game.

People are desperate to reclaim their democracy. So it was gratifying on the first day of the 116th Congress to lead the new Democratic majority in unveiling and introducing H.R. 1, the For the People Act — a bold and transformative reform bill that will return power to the people by making it easier, not harder, to vote; breaking the grip of big money on our politics; and strengthening ethics laws so that the public officials serve the public, not themselves.

First, H.R. 1 guarantees every America citizens’ right to vote. It expands access to the ballot box by implementing automatic voter registration, mandatory early voting, no-excuse absentee ballots and by cracking down on restrictive voter ID laws. It restores the integrity of our democratic system by committing Congress to the process of restoring the Voting Rights Act and by requiring independent redistricting commissions to end partisan gerrymandering.

It also strengthens the security of election systems in Maryland and across the country by increasing federal assistance for state voting systems — including funding for paper ballots — and enhancing federal-state information sharing to counter threats.

Second, H.R. 1 breaks the influence of big money and special interests in Washington by establishing a revolutionary matching system for citizen-owned elections. By matching small donations and encouraging Congressional candidates to accept voluntary restrictions on PAC money and large contributions, this new system empowers the American people to take back their democracy from wealthy and well-connected special interests.

H.R. 1 will also bring more transparency to political spending by shining a light on secret money in our politics and requiring large digital platforms to maintain databases of political ads. It prevents foreign money from entering our political system and revamps the Federal Election Commission to ensure there’s an effective cop on the beat to enforce our nation’s campaign finance laws.

Third, H.R. 1 enhances our nation’s ethics laws to ensure that public servants work for the public, not for their own personal financial gain. It applies conflict of interest laws to the president and vice president and requires major party nominees to release their tax returns.

It prevents members of Congress from using taxpayer dollars to settle discrimination settlements and establishes a code of conduct for the Supreme Court. With passage of H.R. 1, the Office of Government Ethics would gain enhanced enforcement powers and there would be an end to the revolving door between industry lobbyists and government agencies.

These are not reforms for reform’s sake. They are carefully designed to unrig the system so everyday citizens can set the agenda in Washington and make progress on the issues that matter most, whether it’s lowering prescription drugs prices, building a fair economy, reducing gun violence or combating climate change and rising sea levels that threaten coastal communities, including right here in Annapolis.

Democratic candidates across the country ran on these reforms during the last election. We promised to clean up the culture of corruption in Washington and return power to the American people. Now, we are ready to keep that promise by passing H.R. 1 and returning to a government of, by and for the people.

U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Baltimore County, represents the 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives, including parts of Anne Arundel County. He authored H.R. 1. in his role as chairman of the Democracy Reform Task Force.


You can read the full article by John Sarbanes here

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John Sarbanes

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