House Democrats Lead off 2019 with H.R. 1 (January 9)

Update 321 — House Democrats Lead Off 2019 with HR 1, Broad and Bold Anti-Corruption Bill

House Democrats have given legislative pride of place to the For the People Act, a signal and far-reaching anti-corruption bill, making it H.R. 1.  The bill includes critical voting rights and ethics reforms. But of particular note is the quantum leap forward in campaign finance reform that its small-donor public financing match provision represents.

Even if H.R.1 fails to make it to the Senate floor in the 116th Congress, the bill in its final form will be important as a starting point of reference when the Senate majority (hopefully) flips in the following Congress.  And, Senate aside, some of these provisions can be adopted by the House as self-enforced institutional rules. Why not?

Below, we summarize and comment on the bill which — if enacted into law someday — would represent the most comprehensive political reform of the century to date and accomplish some progressive policy goals sought for decades.  

And we hope you’ll be able to join our Progressive Congress Action Network call tomorrow, where Rep. Sarbanes and End Citizens United will be reviewing the contents of the bill.

Best,

Dana

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In June 2018, Rep. John Sarbanes, chair of the U.S. House’s Democracy Reform Task Force, introduced the By the People Resolution, H.Res. 975. The resolution contains many provisions adopted in the For the People Act, H.R. 1, sponsored by Sarbanes. The three core issues the resolution and the bill address are the same:

  • voting rights
  • campaign finance
  • ethics rules (revolving door, self-dealing)

H. Res. 975 made little headway in the 115th Congress, but with a new Democratic majority in the House, the climate for reform will be more favorable in the 116th. Many of the 67 new members of the lower chamber made reform a critical platform in their campaigns and H.R. 1 tackles this issue head-on.

H.R. 1: Broad in Scope, Ambitious in Aim

The ten titles of H.R. 1 are organized into three key areas: voting, campaign finance, and ethics.

Voting Rights

Over the past several cycles, Republicans across the nation have controversially restricted access to the ballot box by imposing strict voter I.D. laws, disingenuously blaming rampant voter fraud despite evidence to the contrary. Restoring voting rights is front of the pack in H.R. 1, as House Democrats seek to increase access, restore integrity and fairness, and improve the security of our election process.

  • Title I – Election Access: modernizes voter registration, facilitates vote by mail, and makes Election Day a federal holiday
  • Title II – Election Integrity: seeks to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act, eliminates the opportunity for states to engage in purging voters from their roles, and would require states to create independent redistricting commissions to resolve the problem of partisan gerrymandering
  • Title III – Election Security: includes an increase in funding for election security efforts and mandates certain Administrative agencies focus efforts on increasing election security

Campaign Finance Reform

Campaign finance is an area that Democrats have been engaged in since the Supreme Court came out with their Citizens United v. FEC decision, which has exacerbated the problem of money in politics. In a move that’s been lauded by many, the campaign finance portion includes a public finance matching provision for small-dollar donations.

  • Title IV – Campaign Finance Transparency: focuses on disclosure and codifies several bills that Democrats looked to pass in the 115th (the DISCLOSE Act and the Honest Ads Act)
  • Title V – Campaign Finance Empowerment: seeks to empower the American voter by incentivizing small-dollar donations through public financing
  • Title VI – Campaign Finance Oversight: penalizes offenders of the campaign finance regime, restructures the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to have five commissioners, and stops super PAC coordination

Ethics Rules

The third pillar of the legislation covers ethics issues and provides reforms House Democrats prioritize to address conflicts of interest and revolving door practices.  

  • Title VII – Ethics Standards: includes proposals to establish a new set of ethics standards for the Supreme Court and changes to increase lobbying transparency
  • Title VIII – Ethics Reforms for the President, Vice President and Federal Officers and Employees: focuses on conflicts of interest within the executive branch, including prohibitions on corporate incentives to those entering government service and curtailments on the “revolving door,” and would reinstate the Office of Congressional Ethics, the independent ethics office that was stripped of its authority and autonomy by House Republicans in a vote at the start of the last Congress
  • Title IX – Congressional Ethics Reforms: aims to tackle conflicts of interest, campaign finance, transparency, and lobbying disclosures (particularly pertinent given the recent insider trading charges against GOP-Rep. Chris Collins and the indictment of other Republican, Rep. Duncan Hunter, over alleged misuse of campaign funds)
  • Title X – Presidential Tax Transparency: requires sitting presidents and vice-presidents to release their tax returns

A Senate Companion

H.R. 1 includes a number of provisions from bills previously introduced in the Senate. Several of these come from last year’s Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, S. 3357, introduced by Sen. Warren — particularly the ethics rules provisions. H.R 1 also incorporates Sen. Klobuchar’s Honest Ads Act, S. 1989, to increase transparency in campaign finance.

Sen. Udall is leading the efforts behind a comprehensive Senate companion piece. Ultimately, his bill is expected to track H.R. 1 closely or just replicate it. Sen. Udall is working with the other Democrats in the Senate who have introduced related bills. While the bill will almost certainly make it as a package on the Senate floor, it is bound to be the subject of floor speeches and lines of questioning at committee hearings pursued by individual Democrats.

Next Steps

H.R. 1 is still a work progress, introduced on January 3 and currently weighing in at over 500 pages. Most of the key details of its vast and numerous provisions are not known to members, let alone the public. Due to its jurisdictional breadth, it is likely to be considered by several House committees before making it to the floor — it’s already been referred to House Administration,  Intelligence, Judiciary, Oversight and Reform, Science, Space, and Technology, Education and Labor, Ways and Means, Financial Services, Ethics, and Homeland Security. The House might move to a full floor vote on the bill sometime in February or introduce segments of it serially as standalone bills first.

What H.R 1 Stands for in the Popular Mind

There is broad support for many of the provisions in this comprehensive reform package.  According to polling from End Citizens United, 75 percent of 2018 voters in competitive districts highlighted tackling corruption as their number one priority.

Regardless of passage, H.R. 1 is a monumental and transformative bill which addresses problems that have been threatening our democracy and the sanctity of our political system for years. Its provisions paint a picture of fairness and inclusion that will have lasting effects on current and future members of our government, as well as future political cycles. H.R.1 sends a simple message to the American people: Democrats will stand up to outside influences in Congress, will fight to hold our leaders accountable, and will work to ensure that every voting-age citizen is able to make it to the ballot box.

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