House passes sweeping anti-corruption and voting rights bill
Democrats passed House Resolution 1 (H.R. 1) Friday, a bill which could be the most sweeping anti-corruption measure passed by the House of Representatives in a generation, by a vote of 234 to 193. The bill focuses on voting rights, campaign finance, and government ethics. But it appears to have no chance in the Senate.
Sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Maryland, H.R. 1, or the “For the People Act,” is a wide-ranging piece of legislation that in its words seeks “to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules for public servants and for other purposes.” The Washington Post called it “perhaps the most comprehensive political-reform proposal ever considered by our elected representatives.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, takes a different view — he has nicknamed the bill the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.”
Even though McConnell has no intention of taking up the bill, he has spent a lot of time on the Senate floor in recent weeks railing against the bill as a massive Democratic takeover of state elections laws and an attempt to suppress free speech. Many have pointed to the fact that the ACLU opposes portions of the bill, warning that they unconstitutionally impinge on Americans’ free speech rights by forcing more disclosure of donors by special interest groups. Others have objected to the public financing program for elections which Republicans warn could cost the government billions.
At a press conference Friday morning hailing the forthcoming passage of the bill, Speaker Pelosi said, “Yes it is a ‘power grab,’ a power grab on behalf of the people.”
“It ends the dominance of big dark special interest money in politics and it empowers small donors and the grassroots. It ensures clean fair elections and fighting voter suppression. It cleans up corruption returning integrity to Washington D.C,” she said.
The bill was co-sponsored by every single Democrat serving in the House. It has three main tenets:
It seeks to create incentives for elected officials to rely on small donors, rather than large corporate contributions, when running for office and proposes new disclosure requirements on the source of donor money.
The bill seeks to expand early voting, create same-day voter registration, save eligible voters from “voter purging,” and creates a pathway for re-enfranchisement for those who have lost voting privileges due to felony convictions. There is also an amendment to make Election Day a holiday for federal workers.
Third, there is a focus on anti-corruption measures. H.R. 1 would require presidential and vice-presidential candidates to disclose their income tax returns and wants paper ballots to be used in federal elections, mainly to reduce the risk of electronic voting machines being hacked.
But these are only the broad outlines of the bill. H.R. 1 is a massive piece of legislation that would remake many aspects of the the federal government, if it were to be passed by Congress. Though it was widely expected to pass along party lines in the House, McConnell won’t take up the bill in the Senate.
One aspect of H.R. 1 that has already caught the public’s attention is the amendment to make Election Day a national holiday for federal workers, with the hope that a change in private employer policy would eventually follow. In January, McConnell laid bare his criticisms and said on the Senate floor, “Just what America needs, a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work for, I assume… our colleagues on the other side, on their campaigns.”
On Wednesday, when asked why he won’t bring H.R. 1 to the Senate floor, though he plans to bring another bill championed by Democrats, the Green New Deal, to a vote, McConnell said, “Because I get to decide what we vote on.” The Senate majority leader referred to HR 1 as a “parade of horribles.” In particular, he has attacked the measure for restructuring the Federal Elections Commission from a six-member panel to a five-member panel, allowing one party to have three members, and the minority to have two. He also takes issue with the move toward public financing of elections, like the provision for a 6-to-1 government match for donations to presidential and congressional candidates.
Even if the bill is never brought to a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate, HR 1’s passage would put House members on the record when it comes to campaign finance reform and several other issues.
Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this report