The For the People Act, H.R. 1, is a sweeping democracy reform package that is being reintroduced in the U.S. Congress in January 2021.
If passed, this much-needed legislation would enact some of the greatest, most comprehensive improvements our democracy has seen in decades.
Congress should pass, and once he is sworn in as president, Joe Biden should sign, H.R. 1 into law. This bill will advance voting rights, strengthen ethics laws, curtail partisan gerrymandering, and decrease the influence of wealthy special interests in our political system.
The various reforms included in H.R. 1 are deeply popular and many have already been enacted in states and localities. (You can learn more about some of the places that have pioneered these democracy reforms in our DemocracyU project.)
This historic national legislation already passed the House of Representatives in the last Congress in March 2019.
Now is the time to get H.R. 1 passed and signed into law.
Why Do We Need H.R. 1?
American democracy has suffered attacks on several fronts over the past decade.
Many states and localities have launched attacks on access to voting, with voters of color disproportionately facing significant barriers to the ballot box.
Extreme partisan gerrymandering in states controlled by Democrats and Republicans alike has weakened the voting power of many voters by creating political maps that rig the system in favor of the politicians or party in power.
Rampant ethical abuses by officials in the highest levels of government have eroded the public’s trust in government.
And we’ve seen record-breaking amounts of campaign spending and difficult-to-trace dark money supporting both Democrats and Republicans, which has eroded transparency in our political system and has made elected officials more responsive to wealthy special interests rather than everyday Americans.
These are examples of the many problems facing our political system. It’s time for change. Here are some of the key ways H.R. 1 will address these problems and strengthen our democracy:
Protecting Access to the Fundamental Right to Vote
H.R. 1 would ensure that voters can always register on Election Day and are not wrongfully purged from the voter registration rolls when they sit out an election cycle or fail to respond to a notice in the mail.
H.R. 1 also expands the right to vote by mail to every eligible voter in the United States for federal elections and makes the vote by mail process uniform and accessible. Congress should unequivocally affirm that all voters should have access to secure and effective voting options.
Ending Partisan Gerrymandering and Ensuring Fair Maps for All Voters
H.R. 1 requires the establishment of an independent redistricting commission (IRC) in each state, responsible for developing and enacting congressional redistricting plans. It sets forth criteria and rules for these commissions to ensure they are fair and open to public input.
Having IRCs draw map boundaries in every state — rather than politicians picking their voters— would represent a major step toward impartial electoral maps, a reform essential to restoring public confidence that every vote matters.
Ensuring Transparency in Our Elections and in Digital Political Advertising
Voters have a right to know which wealthy special interests are spending big money to secretly influence our vote and our government. H.R. 1 would go a long way toward protecting that right.
As part of H.R. 1, the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act would close these avenues for secret election funding by tracing big political donations back to their true source, eliminating loopholes in reporting requirements, and requiring greater disclosure for LLC donations.
Additionally, current campaign finance laws do not reflect the digital nature of 21st century politics. Voters have a right to know who is paying for the political advertisements they see, no matter if those ads run on TV or the internet.
H.R. 1 would help to close the digital disclosure gap by updating disclosure and disclaimer requirements for online political advertising.
Stopping Foreign Money From Interfering With Our Right To Self-Governance
U.S. law prohibits any foreign national from spending in any federal, state, or local candidate elections – a ban that has been consistently upheld by the courts. Despite the ban, however, current law leaves several openings for foreign interference in American elections.
Multiple sections of H.R. 1 together strengthen protections against foreign election interference by extending the foreign national spending ban to ballot referenda, improving donor disclosure laws, and updating digital transparency requirements.
H.R. 1 would help get foreign money out of American politics.
Making Government More Responsive To Everyday Americans
Our campaign finance system is awash in big money, allowing wealthy special interests to rig our politics in their favor.
Public financing will go the furthest toward creating a government that looks like and is responsive to the country as a whole.
H.R. 1 will enact a voluntary small dollar matching program for congressional and presidential races to amplify the voices of average Americans—with the system financed by fines on corporate and executive wrongdoing, rather than funded by taxpayers.
H.R. 1’s public financing system would broaden the donor base, open doors for candidates of all backgrounds to compete for office, and make candidates less reliant on a small number of big donors.
This would make elected officials more responsive to the broad base of community members funding their campaigns, rather than a handful of wealthy special interests.
H.R. 1 will also address super political action committee (PAC) coordination with candidates.
Close relationships between campaigns and supportive super PACs have provided a way for deep-pocketed donors to evade the candidate contribution limits that are on the books to guard against corruption. Addressing super PAC coordination will help contain the influence of big donors.
Fixing the FEC and Restoring Integrity To America’s Elections
H.R. 1 would also fix the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC is the sole federal agency exclusively entrusted with enforcing and administering the laws that govern money in campaigns for president and Congress.
But the FEC has been dysfunctional for years and has been failing at its mission—and its failure to enforce campaign finance laws has resulted in an explosion in secret spending and politics increasingly rigged in favor of wealthy special interests.
The FEC gets little attention for such an important agency, but it is a major contributing factor to the problems in our campaign finance system.
H.R. 1 would restructure the agency so that it can function as an effective watchdog. Having an effective FEC will ensure that laws increasing transparency and protecting the voices of everyday Americans will be enforced.
Making the Ethics Pledge for Senior Executive Branch Officials the Law of the Land
In an attempt to close gaps in federal ethics laws, former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as well as President Trump have all instituted some version of an ethics pledge for the executive branch by using executive orders.
While a step in the right direction, these pledges have been inconsistent across administrations and unevenly enforced. These voluntary measures have failed to adequately address broader problems.
The core tenets of ethical government service remain the same regardless of who is in power, and ethics requirements should be strengthened and remain consistent.
Democracy depends on the public’s trust that government officials are acting in the public’s interest, not on behalf of wealthy special interests. H.R. 1 would codify the ethics pledge, and its revolving door restrictions would help protect the public’s trust.
It’s Time to Pass H.R. 1
Many elected officials have pledged to prioritize democracy reform. They should make good on their promise. We all deserve to have a government that is accessible, transparent, and responsive to us.