The Forces Lining Up to Fight Political Reform

There can be no doubt that climate change is the existential crisis of our lifetimes. But if you or a loved one has had your life threatened due to lack of access to affordable healthcare, or to gun violence, those issues take on a sense of immediate urgency. Similarly, if you or a loved one faces imminent deportation as a result of your immigration status, you are likely attuned to the importance of addressing that issue. Finally, our best ideals as a country are threatened by the continued growth of income inequality. So addressing that one needs to be front and center as well.

The truth is, this country faces a lot of urgent challenges right now, and that is why I agree with Vann Newkirk.

[A]s big, new progressive ideas like the Green New Deal, Medicare for all, and reparations permeate the 2020 presidential-primary conversation, the reality for Democrats is that voting rights could be the only thing everyone agrees on—and the thing necessary for all of the other potential policies to ever become reality.

As Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) said, “the people’s agenda really depends upon democracy, and the base of the democracy is the right to vote.”

That is why on Friday the House will vote on a bill that E.J. Dionne calls “the most comprehensive political-reform proposal ever considered by our elected representatives.” The For the People Act, or H.R. 1, contains provisions that go right to the heart of many of the ways Republicans have been attacking our democracy over the last couple of decades, with provisions that not only support voting rights, but curtail gerrymandering and the influence of dark money on our politics.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has paid a lot more attention to this bill than anything else we’ve seen in a while. He not only wrote an op-ed filled with lies about it, he took to the floor of the Senate to make a speech in which he mocked it as a “power grab” by the Democrats.

To back up Newkirk’s contention that legislation like this is necessary for other priorities to ever become reality, McConnell won’t even allow the Senate to vote on it, even as he works to schedule a vote on the Green New Deal. He knows that the former has the potential to pave the way for the latter.

The Majority Leader’s buddies on K Street are lining up with him in opposition to H.R. 1. As Kate Ackley reports, over 300 conservative groups—including the Chamber of Commerce—have written to lawmakers claiming that the bill pushes “certain voices…out of the political process altogether.”

If enacted, the measure would “silence” the business community and trade associations in the political process, said Neil Bradley, the chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, during a news call with reporters Tuesday…

The bill would require organizations such as the chamber that engage in certain types of political expenditures — including ads that promote, attack, support or oppose candidates or elected officials — totaling at least $10,000 to then disclose its own donors who give at least $10,000.

Bradley said it would force advocacy groups that are active in politics to choose whether to continue to engage in such efforts, or curb that to avoid disclosing their donors.

Just as McConnell and his buddies would have us believe that money equals speech, they want us to assume that requiring super PACs to disclose their dark money donors is an effort to silence them. Nothing in this bill would stop anyone from donating to their favorite super PAC. They simply couldn’t do so in secret. What they’re really worried about is that H.R. 1 could take away their advantage and level the playing field.

Even as McConnell refuses to bring the For the People Act up for a vote in the Senate, the White House found it necessary to promise a veto if it ever passed Congress. Their concerns are slightly different from the Chamber’s.

The White House Statement of Administration Policy objected to the bill on several grounds including this one: “H.R. 1 would prohibit commonsense efforts to clean up voting-rolls to limit opportunities for voting fraud. The bill would also require States to adopt online registration, same-day registration, and automatic voter registration, thus imposing a one-size-fits-all standard for weighing the competing values of voter access and voting integrity.”

In other words, how dare Congress protect the rights of all of this country’s citizens to vote, when the power to suppress their votes should remain with the individual states?

In terms of cohesion around this legislation, every Democratic member of the House has signed on as a co-sponsor and Republican leadership is working hard to prevent anyone in their caucus from voting for it. The vehemence of the opposition should tell us something.

The vote in the House this week is widely considered the opening act in what may become a multiyear debate and a major messaging point in the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns. Opponents of the measure say they’re taking this fight seriously because if Democrats win control of  the Senate and White House, the ideas behind HR 1 would likely be a top order of business.

To tackle the major issues we face as a country, the first step is to reform our democratic processes and address the ways in which Republicans have been working over the years to subvert them. The GOP and their big donors know that the For the People Act threatens their power and are doing everything they can to stop it. What say the people?

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.