What is the For the People Act – also known as H.R. 1?
Riding a wave of outrage at a corrupt president who abused his power and thought he was above the law, Americans elected a huge class of novice politicians to Congress. Their charge: clean up Washington.
We are talking about 1974. The “Watergate Babies,” as that Congressional class came to be known, shook up Capitol Hill and let sunlight into the dusty backrooms of the House of Representatives.
It is now 2019 – more than 40 years later – and Congress is experiencing a similar transformation. A new class of representatives that is far more diverse campaigned on promises to reform entrenched rules that stack the deck against their constituents back home. As candidates, many of them sent a letter to their future colleagues urging political reform to “be the very first item Congress addresses” in the new year.
As Democrats take back control of the U.S. House of Representatives this week, their first item of business is a robust democracy reform package that aims to give everyday people a bigger voice in politics and to create a more ethical and accountable government.
The For the People Act, or HR1, represents the first time in a very long time that Congress is prioritizing democracy reform legislation. As other commentators have noted, the bill number is itself significant. By custom, the first 10 bill numbers are reserved for the most important priorities of a House majority. This is the first priority of the incoming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.
The bill is multifaceted, addressing voting rights, campaign finance, redistricting, government transparency, and ethics. Many parts of the bill are reforms Common Cause has successfully won at the state and local level, often with bipartisan support. Now, the For the People Act is an opportunity to pass these important reforms at the federal level.
It’s also the product of Common Cause members’ efforts in the midterm campaigns. We secured the pledges of more than 100 incoming members of Congress to our Democracy 2018 questionnaire to work aggressively to prioritize issues of voting rights, money-in-politics, and ethics.
So, what is in the bill? Here is a quick snapshot and some highlights, broken down by the three key issue sections of the bill.
Protecting and expanding voting rights and election security:
- Automatic voter registration
- Online voter registration
- Same day voter registration
- Make election day a federal holiday
- Voting rights restoration to people with prior felony convictions
- Expand early voting and simplify absentee voting
- Prohibit voter purges that kick eligible voters off the registration rolls
- Enhance election security with increase support for a paper-based voting system and more oversight over election vendors
- End partisan gerrymandering by established independent redistricting commissions
- Prohibit providing false information about the elections process that discourage voting and other deceptive practices
Reduce the influence of big money in our politics:
- Require secret money organizations that spend money in elections to disclose their donors
- Upgrade online political spending transparency rules to ensure voters know who is paying for the advertisements they see
- Create a small donor-focused public financing matching system so candidates for Congress aren’t just reliant on big money donors to fund their campaigns and set their priorities
- Strengthen oversight rules to ensure those who break our campaign finance laws are held accountable
- Overhaul the Federal Election Commission to enforce campaign finance law
- Prohibit the use of shell companies to funnel foreign money in U.S. elections
- Require government contractors to disclose their political spending
Ensure an ethical government accountable to the people:
- Slow the revolving door between government officials and lobbyists
- Expand conflict of interest law
- Ban members of Congress from serving on corporate boards
- Require presidents to publicly disclose their tax returns
- Overhaul the Office of Government Ethics to ensure stronger enforcement of ethics rules
- Require members of the U.S. Supreme Court abide by a judicial code of ethics
If that sounds like a lot – it is. But the decades of neglect and changing political dynamics demand comprehensive solutions. There is no one panacea.
Victory won’t come easily. We will need to fight to make to ensure H.R. 1 passes. We need to prepare right now for a multi-year fight to protect these bold reforms and pass them to ensure that all Americans for generations to come have a healthy democracy, built on transparency, trust, and the full participation of We the People.
Click here to view a section-by-section summary of HR1.
Click here to view the full text of HR1.