March 27, 2019

Cardin, Udall, Democratic Caucus Introduce “For the People Act”

Sweeping package of pro-democracy and anti-corruption reforms makes it easier — not harder — to vote, ends the dominance of big money in politics, and ensures public officials work for the public interest

WASHINGTON − U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) joined Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and all 47 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus today in introducing the For the People Act, a sweeping package of comprehensive reforms that would end special interest corruption of our politics and make government work for the people. The landmark legislation, companion legislation to H.R. 1 in the U.S. House of Representatives, aims to restore the promise of American democracy by making it easier, not harder, to vote; ending the dominance of big money in politics; and ensuring that public officials work for the public interest. Earlier this month, the House passed H.R. 1 by a vote of 234-193.  

The full text of the legislation is available HERE. A one-page summary of the bill is available HERE. A longer summary of the bill is available HERE.  A section-by-section summary of the legislation is available HERE. A list of organizations supporting the legislation is available HERE 

“Voting is a fundamental right of citizenship,” said Cardin. “I am proud to join with Senator Udall to co-sponsor the For the People Act, which would eliminate the patchwork of voter rights across the country. Among many important measures, this bill includes my Democracy Restoration Act (DRA), which would strengthen American communities by restoring voting rights to individuals when they have returned home after being released from incarceration. The United States is one of the few Western democracies that allows the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with felony convictions, and it’s simply wrong that state disenfranchisement laws deny citizens participation in our democracy. This bill would also crack down on the use of deceptive practices and voter intimidation efforts that are deliberately designed to suppress minorities’ voting rights.”

"American democracy has reached a crisis point,” said Udall. “Too many Americans have every reason to believe that their government no longer answers to them – and most people are either losing faith in the system or have already lost it completely. Voting rights are under assault, foreign adversaries interfere in our elections, special interest money drowns out the voices of regular people, and so-called public servants use their offices to help themselves and their friends – instead of the people they are supposed to work for. Enough is enough. We must unrig the system and take back our democracy -- to return it to the hands of its rightful owners, the American people. This landmark package of transformational reforms will bring transparency and accountability back to our government by strengthening access to the ballot box, shining sunlight on dark money in politics, and rooting out the culture of corruption in Washington. This shouldn’t be about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about the people versus the special interests. The American people are demanding reform – and they will be heard.”   

“The founding ‘We The People’ vision of our constitution has been corrupted by gerrymandering, dark money, and voter suppression. We now have government by and for the powerful, not by and for the people,” said Merkley. “Today we stand up to end the corruption.  If we fail, we will fail on healthcare, housing, education, and good-paying jobs. If we fail, we will fail to address climate chaos. We must not fail.”

“For far too long, those trying to disenfranchise voters, especially voters from communities of color, young voters, and the poor, have systematically and successfully put in place bureaucratic hurdles in order to limit participation at the ballot box. At the same time, loose campaign finance and ethics rules have given power and a voice to powerful special interests at the expense of the American people. That’s not right, and the American people know it’s not right – so we Democrats are taking action. Senators Udall and Merkley’s ‘For The People Act’ will help shine light on the dark money and nefarious practices that corrode our democracy and are used to give the wealthiest few outsized influence in our elections and deny Americans citizens the constitutional right to vote,” said Schumer

The legislation is co-sponsored by every member of the Senate Democratic Caucus, including: U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Angus King (I-Maine), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

The For the People Act would:

Make It Easier, Not Harder, To Vote

— Improve Access and Secure Voting Rights 
– Expands access to the ballot box by taking aim at institutional barriers to voting, such as cumbersome registration systems, limited voting hours and many other roadblocks. The bill creates automatic voter registration across the country, ensures that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full rights restored, expands voting by mail, promotes early voting and online voter registration, and modernizes the U.S. voting system. 

— Promote Integrity – Fights back against the assault on voting rights by reaffirming Congress’s commitment to restoring the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting voter roll purges like those seen in Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere, and ensuring that discriminatory voter ID laws do not prevent Americans citizens from exercising their rights. This bill would also end partisan gerrymandering to prevent politicians from picking their voters and making Americans feel like their voices do not count. 

— Bolster Election Security – Ensures that American elections are decided by American voters without interference by foreign adversaries. The bill creates a national strategy to protect our democratic institutions, increases oversight over election vendors, and enhances federal support for state voting system security upgrades, including paper ballot voting systems.

End The Dominance of Big Money In Politics 

— Guarantee Disclosure – Shines a light on dark money in politics by requiring all political organizations to disclose their donors, which will break the nesting-doll system that allows big-money contributors and special interests to hide their spending in networks of so-called “social welfare” organizations; expands “Stand By Your Ad” provisions; and harmonizes internet disclosure rules with existing broadcast rules.

— Empower Citizens – Builds a 21st-century campaign finance system to increase the power of small donors, reaffirms Congress’s authority to regulate money in politics, and pushes back against Citizens United. This bill levels the political playing field for everyday Americans, creating a multiple matching system for small donations and allowing the American people to exercise their due influence in a post-Citizens United world, while reaffirming that Congress should have the authority to regulate money in politics. The new system of citizen-owned elections will break special interests’ stranglehold on Congress and the White House and lay the groundwork for an agenda that serves the American people.

— Strengthen Oversight – Repairs and restructures the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to break gridlock and enhance enforcement mechanisms, tightens rules on super PACs, and repeals policy riders that block sensible disclosure measures. 

Ensure Public Officials Work For The Public Interest

— Fortify Ethics Laws and Slow the Revolving Door – 
Breaks the influence of special interests in Washington and increases accountability by expanding conflict of interest law and divestment requirements, slows the revolving door, prohibits members of Congress from serving on for-profit corporate boards, limits first class travel for government officials, ends taxpayer-financed settlements for officeholders, and requires presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.

— Impose Greater Ethics Enforcement – Gives teeth to federal ethics oversight by overhauling the Office of Government Ethics, requires the Supreme Court to create a new ethical code, and closes registration loopholes for lobbyists and foreign agents. 

###