By Paul K. Schwartz @PKSpaul
Elections do, indeed, have consequences as the 2016 election so clearly demonstrated. So, too, did the 2018 midterm elections. Unlike 2016, however, the consequences of the 2018 midterms can be characterized as new opportunity; new opportunity to address issues that had no chance under the Republican-held Congress.
Our own congressman, John Sarbanes, seized this new opportunity with the re-introduction of proposed legislation designed to level the playing field for grassroots citizens to compete with big money donors for the attention of our elected officials in Congress. In addition, the legislation is designed to hold these officials accountable for their actions.
Specifically, House Resolution 975, or as it is more commonly referred to, the “By the People Resolution,” attempts to, in short, fix our broken campaign finance system, strengthen our nation’s ethics laws, and empower the American voter.
As Congressman Sarbanes states, “Too many Americans feel that Washington is hopelessly out of touch with their priorities. In fact, Americans’ trust in government has approached an all-time low, with over 80 percent of Americans believing they can’t trust those in Washington to do what’s right, no matter the issue. In many ways this broad-based disaffection is a natural reaction to our distorted political system – a system that regularly rewards the wealthy, privileged and politically powerful, while giving short shrift to the issues that impact everyday American households.”
Specifically, the resolution includes these key elements:
Empowering the American voter by:
Expanding Access to the Ballot Box. “…rules for voting and election administration should protect the right to vote and promote voter participation; in recent years, we have witnessed unprecedented efforts to turn back the clock and erect barriers to voting for disabled, minority, young, elderly, and low-income Americans; Congress should respond by modernizing the electoral system to (A) improve access to the ballot; (B) enhance the integrity and security of our voting systems; and (C) ensure greater accountability for the administration of elections.”
Promoting National Automatic Voter Registration. “(1) America is stronger when more Americans participate in the political process; (2) across the Nation, voter registration models at best are outmoded, and present barriers for eligible Americans to have their voices heard at the ballot box and, at worst, are under assault from attempts to limit access; (3) Congress should advance reforms to automate the registration of millions of eligible voters, thereby improving registration files and election security, all the while helping to build a more representative electorate.”
Ending Partisan Redistricting by Establishing State-Based Independent Commissions. “(1) fair representation demands Congressional districts be drawn without undue political influence and gamesmanship; (2) a partisan arms race has broken out, with majority parties in the States crafting district lines to maximize political advantage; (3) the public has lost confidence in the way that Congressional districts are drawn; (4) Congress should put an end to this partisan arms race and require all States to establish independent, multi-party citizen redistricting commissions to draw open, transparent, and fair statewide district maps after each decennial census.”
Restoring the Integrity of the Voting Rights Act. “(1) we must remain vigilant in protecting every American’s right to vote, regardless of race, color, or creed; (2) systemic voter discrimination and intimidation still occurs in communities across the country; (3) the Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, struck down core provisions of the Voting Rights Act, undermining decades-long protections for communities of color that faced historic and continuing discrimination; (4) Congress should restore protections for voters in States with a recent history of discrimination and bolster prophylactic protections for those communities with a history of voter disenfranchisement.”
Protecting the Integrity of the Election System. “(1) the security of election systems must be improved; (2) attacks from hostile actors, both foreign and domestic, must never compromise the integrity or security of our election system; and (3) Congress must advance comprehensive reforms to protect and harden our election system, providing the resources and tools to our State and local partners to ensure attempts to undermine our election system remain unsuccessful.”
Fixing our broken campaign finance system:
Empowering Small Donors and Diminishing the Influence of Big Money Campaign Donors. “(1) concentrated money in politics has corroded the public’s trust in their representatives and their ability to provide fair representation, and is undermining faith in the institutions of democracy; (2) to reduce corruption or the appearance of corruption from the undue influence of the wealthy and well-connected donors in our politics, Congress should enact bold reforms to our campaign finance system that increase and multiply the power of small dollar donors in our democracy; and (3) these reforms can provide everyday Americans, and the candidates they support, with the tools they need to compete with big money, enabling a new generation of candidates to run and win office, ultimately building a Congress that is more responsive to the public interest, not the special interests.”
Disclosing “Secret Money” and Promoting Transparency of Political Spending. “(1) undisclosed ‘secret money’ is a scourge on our democracy and denies voters the information they need to make informed political decisions; (2) when individuals or organizations enter the political town-square to voice their opinions, they should do so openly, honestly, and with the full benefit of transparency; (3) in recent years hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into our political system from undisclosed sources due to a series of ill-advised court decisions, lax enforcement, and a failure to update donor disclosure laws; and (4) Congress should strengthen our campaign finance disclosure laws to shine a bright light on this shadowy political spending and on the sponsors of campaign advertisements, thereby giving Americans the information they need to make informed political decisions.”
Amending the Constitution to Reassert Congress’ Authority to Regulate Political Spending and to Overturn the Citizens United Ruling. “(1) Congress and the States should be able to regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of political money; (2) the Citizens United court case violated this principle by permitting unlimited political spending by nominally independent outside organizations; (3) in practice, this has created a new wild west of outside political spending, empowering the wealthiest few to exert even more control over our democracy; and (4) Congress should move to restore its authority to regulate the raising and spending of political money by passing a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and other related rulings.”
Preventing Foreign Interference in Our Elections. “(1) elections in the United States should be the sole province of the American people; (2) recent efforts by hostile foreign actors to disrupt our elections, and thereby our democracy, must be met with resolve; and (3) Congress should (A) institute a robust set of reforms to create real-time transparency of political advertisements on all advertising platforms, ensuring all Americans have the information they need to judge the source and content of a given political advertisement; and (B) enact new, stronger prohibitions on political spending by foreign actors and on spending by domestic subsidiaries of foreign-owned corporations.”
Restoring Functions to the Federal Election Commission. “(1) the Federal Election Commission needs urgent repair; (2) hamstrung by its partisan composition, the Commission has failed in recent years to live up to its mandate of enforcing Federal election law; and (3) Congress should enact sensible reform measures to restore the Commission’s ability to police campaign finance violations.”
Strengthening Coordination Law to Prevent Candidate Affiliated Super PACS. “(1) independent political spending must remain independent or else it renders contribution limits to candidates ineffectual; (2) the efforts by some to evade or skirt existing campaign finance anti-coordination law exposes the nominal independence of supposedly ‘independent’ political spenders who are clearly affiliated with particular candidates; and (3) Congress should strengthen the anti-coordination statute to (A) shut down candidate-specific super PACs; and (B) effectively prohibit direct and indirect coordination between other outside spenders and candidates and parties.”
As indicated earlier, the proposed resolution also includes language to strengthen our ethics laws since there can be no trust in government if elected officials are not held to ethics standards and are allowed to profit financially from their elected office. Due to space restraints, let me summarize. To strengthen our nation’s ethics laws the proposal emphasizes that we “end the revolving door of special interests into and out of government, expand ethics laws to apply to the President and promote greater accountability of the Chief Executive, reform the Office of Government Ethics with greater enforcement authority, update the Lobbying Disclosure Act by prohibiting bundled campaign contributions from lobbyists, and strengthen bribery laws to guard against public officials profiting from public service.