Van Hollen, Cardin, Senate Democrats Introduce For the People Act to Strengthen Democracy, Put Power Back in the Hands of the American People
U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin (both D-MD) joined Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with a number of their colleagues, have introduced S.1., 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 introduction comes as Republican lawmakers in 43 states continue to use unfounded election conspiracies regarding the 2020 presidential election to push to restrict Americans’ access to the ballot box—with a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown Americans. According to a recent report from the Brennan Center, at least 253 bills to restrict voting have been introduced around the country.
The landmark legislation—companion legislation to H.R. 1, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 3—aims to restore the promise of American democracy by guaranteeing every American citizen full access to the ballot by addressing voter intimidation and suppression, which are among the biggest examples of systemic racism in America; ending the corrupting power of dark money in our campaigns; and putting an end to gerrymandering. In addition, it strengthens ethics laws to ensure that public servants work for the public interest.
“As big corporations continue to flood U.S. elections with dark money and Republicans in states around the country attempt to erect barriers to voting, we must act urgently to put our democracy firmly back in the hands of the American people. This legislation will do just that. I’ve been proud to work alongside my colleagues to author elements of this package and to ensure that this sweeping bill will strengthen our democracy and reduce the power of big money special interests. The For the People Act is crucial to guaranteeing that America has free and fair elections, and the Senate must get it done,” said Senator Van Hollen.
“I am proud to join with Senator Merkley to co-sponsor the For the People Act, which would create clean and fair elections, end big money control of politics, and strengthen our ethics laws for federal employees. Among many important measures, this bill includes my legislation to crack down on the use of deceptive practices and voter intimidation efforts that are deliberately designed to suppress minorities’ voting rights. We have seen a sustained pattern and practice of foreign governments and political campaigns trying to sow division and create fear in communities of color about exercising their sacred right to vote, and these tactics should be illegal,” said Senator Cardin. “This measure also 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. Voting is a fundamental right of citizenship, however, the United States is one of the few Western democracies that allows the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with felony convictions. It’s simply wrong that state disenfranchisement laws deny citizens participation in our democracy.”
“Every American—regardless of the color of their skin, where they live, or how much money they have—deserves a seat at the table and an equal voice in their government,” said Merkley. “That’s the only way we can realize our founders’ ‘We the People’ vision. We must tackle every obstacle, from partisan gerrymandering, to massive sums of dark money, to voter suppression, that are keeping us from fully realizing the promise of an equal and just America. If you really believe in the vision of our republic, you believe in voter empowerment and not voter suppression.”
“At a time when the right to vote is under attack and special interests and dark money are drowning out the voices of the American people, we need to take bold action,” said Klobuchar. “The For the People Act is essential to protecting every American’s right to vote, getting dark money out of our elections, and making sweeping anti-corruption reforms “Many of the provisions in this bill have already been adopted across the country in red, blue, and purple states and they have the support of Republican and Democratic governors and election officials. Next week I will hold a hearing on this bill in the Rules Committee, followed soon after with a mark-up so we can send it to the Senate floor for a vote, because making our Democracy work for every American is a top priority.”
“As Senate Majority Leader, one of the first things that I did was designate the For The People Act as S.1, the first legislative bill from the Senate Democrats,” said Leader Schumer. “In doing so, Senate Democrats made clear we are committed to standing up to the voter suppression efforts that are threatening the core tenets of our democracy, to ending dark money in politics, and to ensuring public officials work for those they represent and not the special interests. As this legislation moves through the Senate, every member of this body will have an opportunity to stand up and say if they support a government by the people and for the people.”
A section-by-section summary of the legislation is available here. A list of organizations supporting the legislation is available here. A myth-busting fact sheet about the bill and Republican narratives of “voter fraud” is available here.
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. The legislation also incorporates the lessons learned from safe and accessible voting in the 2020 election, expanding access for students, elderly Americans and Native Americans, expanding cure opportunities for states that require signature match, provides funding for absentee ballot tracking and sets standards for ballot drop boxes.
- 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.
- 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—funded by fines on corporate malfeasance—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.
- Prevent Foreign Interference – Incorporates lessons learned from preventing foreign interference in the 2020 election, which includes restricting the exchange of information between candidates and foreign governments, a ban on foreign lobbying, and prohibiting the establishment of corporations to conceal election contributions and donations by foreign nationals.
People Should Choose their Politicians, Not the Other Way Around
- End partisan gerrymandering – Prevents politicians from picking their voters and ensures that state and congressional districts are not drawn with surgical precision to benefit a political party or specific politician, by requiring states to adopt independent redistricting commissions.
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 the President, Vice President, and candidates for those offices 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.
In addition to Van Hollen, Cardin, Merkley, Klobuchar, and Schumer, the legislation is cosponsored by: Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Carper (D-DE), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mark Warner (D-VA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Gary Peters (D-MI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Angus King (I-ME), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jon Tester (D-MT), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Jon Ossoff (D-GA).
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