Democracy Scorecard

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Table of Contents
 1. Introduction
 2. House Bill and Vote Descriptions
 3. Senate Bill and Vote Descriptions
 4. Download the Full Report

 

Introduction

Forty-six years ago last month, John W. Gardner, a Republican whose sense of duty to country led him to accept a cabinet post in the administration of a Democratic president, had a simple but powerful idea: citizens engaged in the democratic process can make a difference. “We want public officials to have literally millions of American citizens looking over their shoulders at every move they make,” Gardner wrote. “We want phones to ring in Washington and state capitols and town halls. We want people watching and influencing every move that government makes.”

VotingGardner’s letter launched Common Cause; his idea continues to animate our work, including this 2016 Democracy Scorecard. The Scorecard is geared toward solving problems that have thrown our democracy out of balance. It reflects a commitment to ensuring that every voice can be heard in our politics and that everyone plays by the same set of common sense rules. The Scorecard provides data on every member of Congress based on their sponsorship or co-sponsorship of bills that would tighten disclosure requirements for political contributions and spending and bust the power of big money in our elections by creating a special public fund to supplement small-dollar contributions from individuals.

Other campaign finance bills in the package would fix the broken public financing system for presidential campaigns, shine a light on corporate political spending so that shareholders understand how money is spent, overturn the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, and tighten the prohibition on political spending by foreign entities. The Scorecard also includes bills to restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act gutted by the Shelby v. Holder MoneySupreme Court ruling, modernize and enhance voting systems, provide automatic registration so that voters are added to the rolls when they do business with any state agency, and create impartial citizens’ commissions to draw new congressional and legislative districts after each census.

Common Cause regularly publishes such election year scorecards. This one is different from its predecessors in its listing of sponsorships and co-sponsorships rather than actual votes. Congress unfortunately is now so gridlocked that common sense reform measures like those listed here rarely come to a vote in either the House or Senate. For the House portion of this scorecard, we were able to include a few votes on amendments and procedural questions concerning money-in-politics issues. Those measures included an amendment requiring tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations to disclose their political spending and another authorizing the Securities and Exchange Commission to develop a rule requiring publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending.

EthicsCosponsorships are just one metric, and there are democracy reform champions in Congress who this Scorecard might not recognize. Despite its limitations, we believe the Scorecard provides a useful tool for citizens concerned about these issues. In recent months, we’ve sent each congressional office four notices listing the bills included in the Scorecard; we wanted to make sure every member of Congress knew which bills he or she was being evaluated on. Since the notices went out, a combined total of more than 250 cosponsors have been added to these bills.

We urge readers to check the performance of their senators and representatives on issues covered in the Scorecard and to seek out multiple perspectives on these and other key issues. In Gardner’s spirit, every citizen should work to hold power accountable by making the phones ring in Washington, their state capitols, and local government offices to ensure that government will always be of, by, and for the people.

 

House Bill and Vote Descriptions

Money in Politics Bills

  • HR 20: Small-dollar donor public financing; would create a small donor matching fund system to lessen congressional candidates’ dependence on special interest and lobbyist money and instead raise small in-state donations
  • HR 430: Disclosure of political spending; would require all corporations, unions, other outside groups, and Super PACs to report to the FEC within 24 hours of making a $10,000 campaign expenditure or financial transfer to other groups which can then be used for campaign-related activity; would require leaders of entities engaging in political spending >$10,000 to “stand by their ads”
  • HR 446: Shareholder disclosure/approval for corporate political spending; would require disclosure of corporate political spending to share-holders, the SEC, and the public on a quarterly basis; would require a Board of Directors vote to authorize each political expenditure over $50,000
  • ƒHR 4177: Help prevent foreign campaign donations via credit card; would require donors making campaign contributions via credit card to enter 3-digit “CVV” code on the back of the card to link to a US-based address
  • HJR 22: Overturn Citizens United decision; would authorize Congress and the states to set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections

Voting Bills

  • HR 12: Modernize and enhance voting systems; modernize registration systems and create online voter registration, allow same-day registration, ensuring the ballots of military/overseas Americans are counted, and create a national voting hotline
  • HR 1459: Restore voting rights for ex-offenders; establishes criteria for ex-offenders to have their voting rights restored in federal elections
  • HR 2694/HR 5779: Create automatic voter registration systems; would ensure that eligible individuals interacting with certain government agencies would automatically be registered to vote
  • HR 2867/HR 885: Update the Voting Rights Act; would modernize the Voting Rights Act pre-clearance formula to ensure that states/localities with a history of discriminating against voters must get changes approved by the Justice Department

Ethics and Redistricting Bills

  • HR 2173/HR 1347: Create independent redistricting commissions; outlines criteria for states to create independent redistricting commission to help eliminate partisan gerrymandering
  • HR 1943: Create judicial code of conduct for Supreme Court; would require the Supreme Court to establish a judicial code of conduct for justices to comply with similar to all other federal judges

House Amendment Votes

  • OCE FUNDING AMENDMENT: Maintains funding for the independent Office of Congressional Ethics
  • IRS POLITICAL DISCLOSURE: Requires 501(c) organizations contributor identity when a 501(c) organization directly or indirectly participates in any political campaign
  • FCC POLITICAL DISCLOSURE: Upholds that the FCC has the authority to require disclosure of spending on political ads
  • IRS POLITICAL DISCLOSURE: Allows the IRS to issue guidance to more clearly define political activity for 501(c)(4) organizations
  • WEAKENING THE FEDERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN ACT: Allows multiple solicitations of campaign contributions from member corporations’ stockholders or personnel from a trade association
  • SEC DISCLOSURE OF POLITICAL SPENDING: Allows the SEC to develop and finalize a rule requiring the disclosure of political contributions to tax exempt organizations

 

Senate Bill and Vote Descriptions

Money in Politics Bills

  • ƒS 214: Shareholder disclosure/approval for corporate political spending; would require disclosure of corporate political spending to shareholders, the SEC, and the public on a quarterly basis; would require a Board of Directors vote to authorize each political expenditure over $50,000
  • ƒS 229: Disclosure of political spending; would require all corporations, unions, other outside groups, and Super PACs to report to the FEC within 24 hours of making a $10,000 campaign expenditure or financial transfer to other groups which can then be used for campaign-related activity; would require leaders of entities engaging in political spending >$10,000 to “stand by their ads”
  • ƒS 366: File electronic Senate campaign finance reports; would require all Senate candidates to file campaign finance reports electronically (which all House candidates do) and save the government $500,000+ per year
  • ƒS 1176: Strengthen presidential public financing system; would update and modernize the presidential public financing system by indexing it to inflation and current campaign spending
  • ƒS 1538: Small-dollar donor public financing; would create a small donor matching fund system to lessen congressional candidates’ dependence on special interest and lobbyist money and instead raise small in-state donations
  • ƒSJR 5: Overturn Citizens United decision; would authorize Congress and the states to set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections

Voting Bills

  • ƒS 772: Restore voting rights for ex-offenders; establishes criteria for ex-offenders to have their voting rights restored in federal elections
  • S 1088: Create online voter registration systems; would require all states to establish online voter registration systems (more than half of states do this already)
  • ƒS 1139: Allow same-day voter registration; would enable eligible individuals to register to vote when they show up at the voting booth on election day

Ethics and Redistricting Bills

  • S 1072: Create judicial code of conduct for Supreme Court; would require the Supreme Court to establish a judicial code of conduct for justices to comply with similar to all other federal judges
  • S 2483: Create independent redistricting commissions; outlines criteria for states to create independent redistricting commission to help eliminate partisan gerrymandering
  • ƒS 6: Omnibus campaign finance and ethics reform bill; would reform the Federal Election Commission, require common sense disclosure of political spending, strengthen lobbying guidelines, and prevent coordination between candidates and Super PACs

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