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House to vote on sweeping anti-corruption package

nancy pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The House will vote on a sweeping 571-page bill this week that would strengthen federal ethics laws, expand voting rights and require presidential nominees to release their tax returns.

The big picture: Several Democratic House candidates made the For The People Act, also known has H.R. 1, a hallmark of their 2018 midterm campaigns, and the legislation was formally introduced on the first day of the new Congress.

Why it matters: "We have a broken political system and a corrupt finance system today," Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21 and a longtime proponent of campaign finance reform, told Axios. "H.R. 1 is the most important reform legislation to repair our democracy since the post-Watergate reforms. ... There has never been a bill as broad in its scope and coverage as this bill, and we will work from here."

The bill's key provisions:

  • Campaign finance: Create a small donor, matching-fund system for congressional and presidential candidates; expand the prohibition of foreign political donations; require super PACs and "dark money" political groups to make their donors public; and restructure the Federal Election Commission.
  • Ethics: Mandate that presidents and vice presidents release 10 years of their tax returns; create an ethics code for the Supreme Court; and bar members of Congress from serving on corporate boards.
  • Voting rights: Allow citizens to register to vote online and be registered automatically; require paper ballots in federal elections; make Election Day a federal holiday; prohibit voter roll purging; and end partisan gerrymandering by having independent commissions redraw congressional districts.

The state of play: The bill is expected to easily pass in the House — it's already secured 234 co-sponsors, in addition to Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) who is leading the effort — but it will likely die in the Senate.

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has dedicated part of his career to blocking progressive campaign finance bills, and other Republicans have already vowed to block it. (McConnell describes it as a "sprawling proposal to grow the federal government’s power over Americans' political speech and elections.")

Yes, but: Those who have championed the bill are under no illusion that the legislation will pass this year, Wertheimer said.

  • "We're not operating in any short time frame. We understand these battles are hard and take time, but we also believe that the flow of history is running in our direction," he said. "We know we start out without Republican support, but we will work to build that support."

Wertheimer said Democrats have a 3–5 year strategy for enacting this:

  • "The House passing H.R. 1 will set the stage for enactment in the next Congress," he said. "If we haven’t reached the point by then, the fight will continue in 2021 and 2022. We think in 2023, at the latest, we’ll be able to enact this legislation."

The bottom line: In a September WSJ/NBC poll, 77% of surveyed registered voters said "reducing the influence of special interests and corruption in Washington" is either the most important or a very important issue facing the country.