Things often don’t go according to plan. In this episode, featuring a feverish and frustrated Jen Briney, learn about the shamefully rushed process employed by the Democrats to pass their top priority bill, H.R. 1, through the House of Representatives.
Executive Producer: Anonymous from Washington
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Bill Outline: HR 1 For The People Act of 2019
Official title: “To expand American’s access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and for other purposes.”
Short Title: For the People Act of 2019
Sponsor: Rep. John Sarbanes (MD-3)
First co-sponsor: Nancy Pelosi
Referred to 10 committees:
- House Administration
- House Intelligence (Permanent Select)
- House Judiciary
- House Oversight and Government Reform
- House Science, Space, and Technology
- House Education and the Workforce
- House Ways and Means
- House Financial Services
- House Ethics
- House Homeland Security
Subtitle A: Voter Registration Modernization “Voter Registration Modernization Act of 2019”
Part 1: Promoting Internet Registration
Sec. 1001: Every State Has to Allow Us To Register to Vote Online
- Requires every State to allow residents to register to vote online and be given an online receipt of their completed voter registration application
- Signatures can be electronic as long as the individual has a signature on file with a State agency, including the DMV.
- People who don’t have signatures on file can submit handwritten signatures through digital means or sign in person on Election Day.
- Signatures will be required on Election Day for people who registered to vote online and have not previously voted in a Federal election in that state.
Sec. 1002: Every State Has To Allow Us To Update Our Registration Online
- States must allow registered voters to update their registrations online too
Sec. 1003: Voter Information Online Instead Of Regular Mail
- Tells states to include a space for voters to submit an email address and get voting information via email instead of using regular mail (we may need that to be “in addition to”)
- Prohibits our emails from being given to anyone who is outside the government.
- The State will have to provide people who opted for emails, at least 7 days before the election, online information including the name and address of the voter’s polling place, that polling place’s hours, and which IDs the voter may need to vote at that polling place.
Sec. 1004: ‘Valid Voter Registration’ Form Definition
- Defines what is a “valid voter registration form”: The form is accurate and the online applicant provided a signature.
Sec. 1005: Effective Date: January 1, 2020.
Part 2: Automatic Voter Registration “Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2019”
Sec. 1012: Automatic Registration of Eligible Voters
- Every State will have to create and operate a system for automatically registering everyone eligible to vote “for Federal office in the State”.
- The States will have 15 days to register a person to vote after getting updated voter information from another agency.
Sec. 1015: “Voter Protection and Security in Automatic Registration”
- Declining automatic registration can’t be used as evidence “In any State or Federal law enforcement proceeding”
- States will have to keep records of all changes to voter records, including removals and updates, for 2 years and make those available for public inspection.
- Gives the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology the power to write the rules for how States can use voter information to deem a person ineligible and to write privacy and security standards for voter registration information
- Voter registration information “shall not be used for commercial purposes.”
Sec. 1016: Corrections to Voter Information Can Be Done on Election Day
- Voters in all States would be able to update their address, name, or political party affiliation in person on Election Day, and they could vote using the corrected information using a regular ballot, not a provisional ballot.
Sec. 1017: The Federal Government Will Pay to Make The Changes
- Authorizes $500 million for 2019, available until it’s gone.
Sec. 1021: Effective Date – January 1, 2021
Part 3: Same Day Voter Registration
Sec. 1031: Voters Can Register At the Polling Place On Election Day
- System would have to be in place by November 2020
Part 4: Conditions on Removal on Basis of Interstate Cross-Checks
Sec. 1041: Requirements To Use Cross Check To Remove Voters
- Prohibits States from using interstate crosscheck systems to remove people from voter rules until the State receives the voter’s full name, including their middle name, date of birth, and last 4 digits of their social security numbers and if the State has documentation verifying the voter is no longer a resident of the State.
- Interstate cross checks can not be used to remove voters from rolls within six months of an election
- Effective date: Six months after enactment
Part 7: Prohibiting Interference with Voter Registration
Sec. 1071: Fines and Prison For Interference in Voter Registration
- People who prevent another person from registering to vote, or attempt to prevent another person from registering, “shall be fined” or imprisoned for up to five years, or both.
- Effective date: Elections on or after enactment
Subtitle B: Access to Voting for Individuals With Disabilities
Subtitle C: Prohibiting Voter Caging
Sec. 1201: Prohibits Removal of Names Based Solely on Caging Lists
- State/local election officials will not be allowed to deny a voter registration if the decision is based on a voter caging document, an unverified match list, or an error on a registration that is not material to the citizen’s eligibility to vote.
- Challenges to voter registration by non-election officials will only be allowed if the person has personal knowledge documented in writing and subject to an attestation under penalty of perjury.
- Penalties for knowingly challenging the eligibility of someone else’s voter registration with the intent to disqualify that person is punishable by a fine and/or one year in prison for each violation.
Subtitle D : Prohibiting Deceptive Practices and Preventing Voter Intimidation – “Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2019”
Sec. 1302: Prohibits Lying To Prevent People From Voting
- Makes it illegal to communicate by any means false information regarding the time and place of an election, the voter’s registration status or eligibility, or criminal penalties for voting within 60 days of an election if the communication has the intent of preventing another person from voting.
- Makes it illegal, within 60 days of an election, to communicate by any means false information regarding an endorsement by a person or political party that didn’t actually happen.
- Penalties: A fine of up to $100,000, five years in prison, or both. The penalties are the same for attempts to lie to people to prevent them from voting.
Subtitle E: Democracy Restoration – “Democracy Restoration Act of 2019”
Sec. 1402: Voting Rights Extend to Ex-Cons
- “The right of an individual who is a citizen of the United States to vote in any election for Federal office shall not be denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless such individual is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or facility at the time of the election.”
Sec. 1408: Effective for any election held after enactment
Subtitle F: Promoting Accuracy, Integrity, and Security Through Verified Permanent Paper Ballot – “Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2019”
Sec. 1502: Requires Paper Ballots for All Federal Elections
- Requires all voting systems to use individual paper ballots that are verified by the voter before their vote is cast which “shall be counted by hand or read by an optical character recognition device or other counting device”
- The paper ballots must be preserved as the official ballots and will be counted by hand for recounts and audits
- If there is a difference between the electronic vote count and the hand count of paper ballots, the hand count of paper ballots will be the final count.
Subtitle H: Early Voting
Sec. 1611: Every State Must Allow Early Voting for 15 Days
- Every State will be required to allow citizens to vote in Federal elections during the 15 days preceding the election, with polls open for at least 4 hours per day except on Sundays.
- Effective Date: Elections after January 1, 2020
Subtitle I: Voting by Mail
Sec. 1621: Vote By Mail National Standards
- States can’t count absentee ballots until they match the signature on the ballot to the signature on the State’s official list of registered voters
- States must provide ballots and voting materials at least 2 weeks before the election
- Effective date: Elections held on or after January 1, 2020
Subtitle J: Absent Uniformed Services Voters and Overseas Voters
Subtitle K: Poll Worker Recruitment and Training
Sec. 1801: Federal Employees As Poll Workers
- Employees of Federal agencies will be allowed to be excused from work for up to 6 days in order to work in polling places on Election Day and for training.
Subtitle L: Enhancement of Enforcement
Subtitle M: Federal Election Integrity
Sec. 1821: Head of Elections Can’t Campaign for Elections They Oversee
- It will be illegal for a chief State election administration official to take part in a political campaign “with respect to any election for Federal office over which such official has supervisory authority”
Subtitle N: Promoting Voter Access Through Election Administration Improvements
Sec. 1902: Notification for Polling Place Changes
- States must notify voters at least seven days in advance if the State has changed their polling place to somewhere other than where they last voted
- Effective January 1, 2020
Sec. 1903: Election Day Holiday
- The Tuesday after the first Monday in November 2020 and each even-numbered year after that will be treated as a legal public holiday
- Encourages, but does not require, the private sector to give their workers the day off for elections
Sec. 1904: Sworn Written Statements to Meet ID Requirements
- If a State requires an ID to vote, a person may vote if they provide, in person, a sworn written statement signed under penalty of perjury attesting to their identity and that they are eligible to vote, unless they are first time voters in the State.
- Effective for elections occurring on or after enactment
Sec. 1905: Postage Free Ballots
- Absentee ballots will not require postage
- The Post Office will be reimbursed by States for the lost revenue
Subtitle E: Redistricting Reform – “Redistricting Reform Act of 2019”
Sec. 2402: Independent Commissions for Redistricting
- Congressional redistricting must be done by an independent redistricting commission established in the State or by a plan development and enacted into law by a 3 judge court of the US District Court for the District of Columbia
Sec. 2411: Creating the Independent Redistricting Commissions
- The Commissions will be made up of 15 members from the “selection pool” (see Sec. 2412)
- 5 members will be selected randomly from the 12 belonging to the political party with the most registered voters in the State
- 5 members will be selected randomly from the 12 belonging to the political party with the second most registered voters in the State
- 5 members will be selected randomly from the 12 who are not affiliated with the two largest political parties
- The Chair must be a member of the group that is not affiliated with the largest two parties in the State and will be selected via a majority vote of the commission
- The State can not finalize a redistricting plan unless the plan gets a vote from someone in each of the three membership categories and it passes with a majority of the commission voting yes.
- Contractors for the commission can be required to provide their political contribution history
- The Commissions will be made up of 15 members from the “selection pool” (see Sec. 2412)
Sec. 2412: Eligibility for the Independent Commission “Selection Pool”
- To qualify, the individual must…
- Be registered to vote
- Either be with the same political party or with no political party for the previous 3 years
- Submits an application including a declaration of their political party, if they belong to one, and a commitment to impartiality.
- An individual is disqualified if the individual or an immediate family member within the 5 years preceding their appointment…
- Holds public office or is a candidate for public office
- Serves as an officer of a political party or as a political party consultant
- Is a registered lobbyist
- Is an employee of an elected public official, a contractor with the legislature of a State, or a donor who gives more than $20,000 to candidates for public offices.
- The selection pool will have 36 individuals made up of…
- 12 individuals affiliated with the political party with the largest percentage of registered voters in the State
- 12 individuals affiliated with the political party with the second largest percentage of registered voters in the State
- 12 individuals who are not affiliated with either of the two largest political parties
- The selection pool must be approved by the State’s Select Committee on Redistricting
- Inaction is a rejection of the selection pool
- To qualify, the individual must…
Sec. 2413: Criteria for New Districts
- Districts must be created using this criteria in this order:
- Districts must comply with the Constitution, including the requirement that the equalize total population
- Districts must comply with the Voting Rights Act and all Federal laws
- Districts can’t be drawn in a way that dilutes the ability for minority communities to elect candidates
- Districts must minimize the division of neighborhoods, counties, municipalities, and school districts “to the extent practicable”
- Districts may not be drawn to favor or disfavor any political party
- The commission may not consider the political party affiliation or voting history of the district’s population or the resident of any member of the House of Representatives when drawing the district maps
- All meetings must be held in public, must take comments into consideration and they must publish information, including video archives, about their meetings on a public website
- Districts must be created using this criteria in this order:
Sec. 2431: Authorizes payments to States of $150,000 per district to help pay for the redistricting process
Subtitle F: Saving Voters from Voter Purging -“Stop Automatically Voiding Eligible Voters Off Their Enlisted Rolls in States Act” – “Save Voters Act”
Sec. 2502: Restricting Voter Roll Purges
- States can’t use the failure of a voter to vote or the voter’s failure to respond to a notice as the basis for removing their name from the voter rolls
Subtitle A: Financial Support for Election Infrastructure
Part 1: Voting System Security Improvement Gains Part 2: Grants for Risk-Limiting Audits of Results of Elections Part 3: Election Infrastructure Innovation Grant Program
Subtitle B: Security Measures
Subtitle C: Enhancing Protections for United Stated Democratic Institutions
Subtitle D : Promoting Cybersecurity Through Improvements in Election Administration
Subtitle E: Preventing Election Hacking
Division B: Campaign Finance
Subtitle B: DISCLOSE Act – “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act”
Part 1: Regulation of Certain Political Spending
Sec. 4101: Foreign Owned Corporations Count as “Foreign Nationals”
- Makes it illegal for a corporation, LLC, or partnership which is more than 5% owned by a foreign government or 20% owned by foreign individual to directly or indirectly make a contribution in connection with a Federal, State, or local election or a contribution to a political party.
- It’s also illegal for Americans to accept or solicit a contribution from “foreign nationals” (amends 52 U.S.C 30121(b))
- Effective 180 days after enactment, regardless of if regulations are done
Part 2: Reporting of Campaign-Related Disbursements
Sec. 4111: Corporations Must Report Donations
- Any corporation, LLC, or tax exempt organization (other than 501(c)3 “charities”) that make campaign contributions totaling more than $10,000 in the 2 year election cycle must file a statement containing the name of the donating organization, the business address, a list of that business or corporations’ controlling owners, and the name/address of the person who received each donation of more than $1,000.
- If the corporation, LLC, or tax exempt organization pays for a public communication, they must report the name of any candidate identified and whether the communication was in support or opposition to that candidate.
Subtitle C: Honest Ads – “Honest Ads Act”
Sec. 4205: Disclosure of Sources of Online Political Ads
- Extends political ad disclosure laws to internet and other digital communication
Sec. 4207: Disclosures Must Be Clear
- Ads must include a statement telling us the name of the person who paid for the communication in a way that is not difficult to read or hear
Sec. 4208: Public Record of Online Political Ads * Requires online platforms to create and make available online for public inspection a complete record of requests to purchase political advertisements if they purchase more than $500 worth in one calendar year
Subtitle D : Stand by Every Ad – “Stand By Every Ad Act”
Subtitle E: Secret Money Transparency
Sec. 4401: IRS Can Investigate Dark Money Groups Again
- Repeals the restriction enacted by the 115th Congress on the IRS that prevented them from making sure tax exempt organizations aren’t using their funds for political expenditures
Subtitle F: Shareholder Right-to-Know
Sec. 4501: SEC Can Enforce Shareholder Disclosure Laws
- Repeals the restriction enacted by the 115th Congress on the Securities and Exchange Commission that prevented them from enforcing laws related to corporations informing shareholders about the corporations political activity.
Subtitle G: Disclosure of Political Spending by Government Contractors
Sec. 4601: Contractors Can Be Forced to Disclose Donations
- Repeals the restriction enacted by the 115th Congress that prevented requiring government contractors to report their political spending
Subtitle H: Limitation and Disclosure Requirements for Presidential Inaugural Committees – “Presidential Inaugural Committee Oversight Act”
Subtitle B: Congressional Elections – “Government By the People Act of 2019”
Part 1: My Voice Voucher Pilot Program
Sec. 5101: Voucher Pilot Program
- The Federal Election Commission will create an pilot program and select 3 states to operate it
Sec. 5102: Pilot Program Details
- State’s will provided individuals who request one a “My Voice Voucher” worth $25
- Individuals can give their voucher dollars, in $5 increments, to qualified candidates for Congress.
Part 2: Small Dollar Financing of Congressional Election Campaigns
Sec. 5111: 6x Matching of Small Dollar Donations
- Payments will be 600% of the amount of small dollar contributions received by the candidate during the Small Dollar Democracy qualifying period
- Small dollar contribution is between $1 and $200
- Limit: The total amount of payments made to a candidate may not be more than 50% of the average of the “20 greatest amounts of disbursements made by the authorized committees of any winning candidate for the office of Representatives in, or Delegate or Resident Commissioner to, the Congress during the most recent election cycle, rounded to the nearest $100,000.”
- Candidates can get an additional payment of up to $500,000 during the period between 60 days and 14 days before the election, which doesn’t count towards the total limit.
- Candidates are eligible if they can get 1,000 people to make a small dollar contribution and if the candidate can raise at least $50,000.
- Eligible candidates can’t take more than $1,000 total from any individual.
- Eligible candidates can’t use more than $50,000 in personal funds.
- Will be funded by a “Freedom of Influence Fund“
- Payments will be 600% of the amount of small dollar contributions received by the candidate during the Small Dollar Democracy qualifying period
Sec. 5112: Coordination with Parties
Sec. 5114: Effective starting in 2024 elections
Subtitle C: Presidential Elections – “Empower Act of 2019”
Part 1: Primary Elections Part 2: General Elections Part 3: Effective Date
Subtitle D : Personal Use Services as Authorized Campaign Expenditures – “Help America Run Act”
Subtitle A: Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections
Sec. 6002: Changes to FEC make up
Subtitle B: Stopping Super PAC-Candidate Coordination
Division C: Ethics
Subtitle B: Foreign Agents Registration
Sec. 7101: New Department of Justice Investigation Unit
- Will be dedicated to enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act
Subtitle C: Lobbying Disclosure Reform
Sec. 7201: Expands Definition of “Lobbyist”
- To include people who provide “legislative, political, and strategic counseling services, research, and other background work” as lobbyists in terms of disclosure requirements
- Effective upon enactment
Subtitle D : Recusal of Presidential Appointees
Sec. 7301: Recusal of Appointees
- Any officer or employee appointed by the President must recuse themselves from any matter involving the President who appointed the officer or employee or that President’s spouse.
Subtitle A: Executive Branch Conflict of Interest
Sec. 8002: Prohibits Private Sector Payments for Entering Government
- Private companies can’t provide bonus payments, pensions, retirement, group life/health/accident insurance, profit-sharing, stock bonus, or other payments contingent on accepting a position in the U.S. Government.
Sec. 8003: Slowing the Revolving Door
- Executive Branch employees can’t use their government position to “participate in a particular matter” if they know a company they worked for in the last two years has a financial interest.
- Penalty: Fine and/or 1 year in prison.
- Penalty for willful violation: Fine and/or up to 5 years in prison
- Civil penalties: The greater of $100,000 per violation or the amount the person received or was offered for conducting the violation
Sec. 8004: Waiting Period For Procurement Officers To Work for Contractors
- A former official responsible for a government contract can not accept payments from any division, affiliate, or subcontractor of the chosen contractor for 2 years after awarding the contract.
- A government employee can not award a contract to his or her former employer for 2 years after they leave the company.
Sec. 8005: Lobbying Job Waiting Period
- Senior level Executive Branch employees have to wait 2 years before they can be paid to influence their former colleagues
Subtitle B: Presidential Conflicts of Interest
Subtitle C: White House Ethics Transparency
Subtitle D : Executive Branch Ethics Enforcement
Subtitle E: Conflicts for Political Fundraising
Sec. 8042: Disclosure of Certain Types of Contributions
- People who are nominated to high level Executive Branch offices will have to disclose their contributions to political organizations, 501(c)4’s, and 501(c)6’s.
Subtitle F: Transition Team Ethics
Subtitle G: Ethics Pledge for Senior Executive Branch Employees
Subtitle A: Requiring members of Congress to Reimburse Treasury for Amounts Paid as Settlements and Awards Under Congressional Accountability Act of 1995
Subtitle B: Conflicts of Interest
Sec. 9101: Members Can’t Be on For-Profit Boards of Directors
- Changes the House Rules so that members of the House of Representatives will not be allowed to serve on the board of “any for-profit entity” while serving in the House of Representatives.
Sec. 9103: Prohibition Above Can Be Changed via House Rules
Subtitle C: Campaign Finance and Lobbying Disclosure – “Connecting Lobbying and Electeds for Accountability and Reform Act” “CLEAR Act”
Sec. 9202: Separate Reports for Lobbyist Donations
- Report submitted by political campaigns will have to report which donations are made by registered lobbyists in a separate statement (amends 52 U.S.C. 30104(b))
Sec. 9203: Effective 90 Days After Enactment
Subtitle D : Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports
Sec. 9303: Online Portal for Congressionally Mandated Reports
- Portal will create, within one year of enactment, an online portal providing free public digital access to all congressionally mandated reports
- Reports will be available within 30 days of their submission to Congress
Sec. 10001: Presidential and Vice Presidential Tax Return Disclosure
- Requires candidates for President and Vice President to submit their tax returns for the last 10 taxable years to the Federal Election Commission within 15 days of declaring their candidacy
- The chairman of the Federal Election Commission must make the candidates’ tax returns, with personal information redacted, publicly available
- Effective upon enactment
- Article: 10 things you might not know about HR 1 by Lindsey McPherson and Kate Ackley, Roll Call, March 6, 2019.
- Article: Conservative expert privately warned GOP donors that a voting rights bill would help Democrats by Lee Fang and Nick Surgey, The Intercept, February 27, 2019.
- Article: House Democrats forge ahead on electoral reform bill by Zach Montellaro, Politico, February 26, 2019.
- Markup: H.R. 1, For the People Act of 2019, February 26 ,2019.
- Article: House Democrats officially unveil their first bill in the majority: a sweeping anti-corruption proposal by Ella Nilson, Vox, January 4, 2019.
- Article: One state fixed its gerrymandered districts, the other didnt. Here’s how the election played out in both by Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post, November 9, 2018.
- Article: 6 takeaways from Georgia’s ‘Use It Or Lose It’ voter purge investigation by Johnny Kauffman, NPR, October 22, 2018.
- Article: Registration is a voter-suppression tool. Let’s finally end it by Ellen Kurz, The Washington Post, October 11, 2018.
- Report: Purges: A growing threat to the right to vote by Jonathan Brater, Kevin Morris, Myrna Pérez, and Christopher Deluzio, Brennan Center for Justice, July 20, 2018.
- Article: How Maryland Democrats pulled off their aggressive gerrymander by Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post, March 28, 2018.
- Article: Pennsylvania Supreme Court draws ‘much more competitive’ district map to overturn Republican gerrymander by Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post, February 20, 2018.
- Article: Pennsylvania redistricting decision gives Democrats a boost by Bill Barrow and Mark Scolforo, AP News, February 6, 2018.
- Article: How redistricting became a technological arms race by Vann R. Newkirk II, The Atlantic, October 28, 2017.
- Article: Government by Goldman by Gary Rivlin and Michael Hudson, The Intercept, September 17, 2017.
- Article: The most gerrymandered states ranked by efficiency gap and seat advantage by Daniel McGlone and Esther Needham, Azavea, July 19, 2017.
- Article: Here are the first 10 members of Trump’s voting commission by Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post, July 6, 2017.
- Article: 3 Trump Cabinet officials will still be receiving millions from corporate America by Jeff Stein, Vox, February 3, 2017.
- Article: Trump adviser Gary Cohn’s $285 million Goldman Sachs exit raises eyebrows by Matt Egan, CNN Business, January 27, 2017.
- Article: The IRS gives up on fighting ‘dark money’ by Editorial Board, The Washington Post, February 19, 2016.
- Article: How Crossroads GPS beat the IRS and became a social welfare group by Robert Maguire, OpenSecrets.org, Febraury 12, 2016.
- Blog: Congress uses PATH to cut IRS off from Section 501(c)(4) social welfare regulations, Wagenmaker & Oberly, December 30, 2015.
- Article: This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see by Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post, March 1, 2015.
- Article: Five 501(c)(3) groups that might have broken the law by Lee Fang, The Nation, May 21, 2013.
- Article: The voter-fraud myth by Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, October 29, 2012.
- Article: Justice Dept. accused of partisan voter-roll purge by Pam Fessler, NPR, October 11, 2007.
- Congressional Budget Office: H.R. 1, Estimated Effects on Direct Spending and Revenues
- Federal Election Commission: Using Campaign Funds for Personal Use
- How Stuff Works: PACs vs. Super PACs
- Research: All About Redistricting – Who draws the lines?
- Website: The Redistricting Majority Project
- Website: RepresentUs
Sound Clip Sources
Short Film: Unbreaking America: A NEW Short Film about Solving the Corruption Crisis, RepresentUs, YouTube, February 27, 2019.
Full Committee Markup: H.R. 1, The For the People Act of 2019, Committee on House Administration, February 26, 2019.
Hearing: For the People: Our American Democracy, Committee on House Administration, February 14, 2019.
- Chiraag Bains – Director of Legal Strategies at Demos
- Wendy Weiser – Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennen Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law
- Fred Wertheimer -President of Democracy 21
- Kym Wyman – Secretary of State of Washington
- Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, Senior at Dodge City High School in Kansas and plaintiff in LULAC & Rangel-Lopez v. Cox
- Peter Earle – Wisconsin Civil Rights Trial Lawyer
- Brandon Jessup – Data Science and Information Systems Professional and Executive Director at Michigan Forward
- David Keating – President at the Institute for Free Speech
Hearing: Full Committee Hearing on the “Strengthening Ethics Rules for the Executive Branch”, Committee on Oversight and Reform, February 6, 2019.
- Scott Amey – General Counsel, Project on Government Oversight
- Karen Hobert Flynn – President of Common Cause
- Rudy Mehrbani – Spitzer Fellow and Senior Counsel, Brennen Center for Justice
- Walter Schaub Jr – Senior Advisor, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
- Bradley Smith – Chairman at the Institute for Free Speech
- 17:30 Rep. Elijah Cummings (D – MD) Title eight includes a bill that I introduced called the executive branch ethics reform act. It would, it would ban senior officials from accepting “golden parachute” payments from private sector employers in exchange for their government service. This would have prevented Gary Cohn from receiving more than $100 million in accelerated payments from Goldman Sachs while leading the Trump administration’s efforts to slash corporate taxes.
- 19:00 Cummings Title eight also would make clear that Congress expects the president to divest his business holdings just as every single president since Jimmy Carter has done and place them in an independent and truly blind trust.
- 28:00 Rep. Jim Jordan (R – OH) In 2013 we learned that the IRS targeted conservative for their political beliefs during the 2012 election cycle systematically for a sustained period of time. They went after people for their conservative beliefs, plan in place, targeted people. They did it. The gross abuse of power would have continued, if not for the efforts of this committee. 2014 the Obama Administration doubled down and attempted to use the IRS rule making process to gut the ability of social welfare organizations to participate in public debate. Congress has so far prevented this regulation from going into effect, but HR 1 would change that.
- 28:30 Jordan Furthermore, this bill would roll back another critical victory for privacy and free speech secured just last summer following efforts by this committee and others, the IRS changed its policy as it relates to schedule B information. Schedule B contains personal information like names, addresses, and the amounts donated to nonprofit entities. Even though this information is supposed to remain private under current law, states and federal government have leaked these personal details in the past. In changing its policies, the IRS noted that there had been at least 14 breaches resulting in the unauthorized disclosure of schedule B information just since 2010. The result was everyday Americans receiving death threats and mail containing white powder. All because someone disagreed with what they believe and who they gave their hard earned money to.
- 59:00 Walter Schaub HR 1 addresses big payouts to incoming officials. These golden parachutes raise concerns about an employee appointees loyalty to a former employer. When former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew left Wall Street to join the State Department, he received a large bonus in his employment agreement. Let him keep that bonus specifically because he landed at a high level government job.
- 1:04:00 Bradley Smith Subtitle B of title six is called Stopping Super PAC and candidate coordination. The sponsors and drafters are either being intentionally disingenuous here or are they simply do not understand what has been put into their own legislation. Nothing in subtitle B, nothing limits. It’s reached a super PACs. It applies to every union trade association, advocacy group and unincorporated association in the country. It applies to planned parenthood and right to life, to the NAACP and the ACLU to the national federation of Independent Business and to the Brady Campaign for gun safety. It even applies to individual citizens who seek to participate in public discussion. Nothing. This cannot be said often enough limits it to super PACs through the interplay of its definitions of coordination and coordinated spenders. The laws treatment, uh, traditional treatment of coordinated spending as a contribution to a candidate and current contribution limits in the law. Subtitle be, will actually have the effect of banning, not limiting, but actually banning a great deal of speech that was legal even before the Supreme Court’s decision in citizens United versus FEC and Buckley v Vallejo.
- 1:39:00 Smith I would only add that I think that the disclosure provisions are often worse than people think because they’re defining as political activity things that have never been defined as political before. And you run the risk of a regulation swallowing up the entire, uh, discourse in which public, uh, engages. So I would only say that I think the provisions are worse than people think and that they’re often hidden through the complex interrelationship of different positions. Well, one, one example would be if an organization, uh, for example, were to hire somebody who had previously been an intern, a paid intern for a member of Congress, that organization would then be prohibited from making any communications that were deemed to promote a tax support or oppose a that candidate. And that vague term could apply to almost anything praising the candidate for introducing a bill, uh, criticizing the congressman for opposing a bill, whatever it might be. Jordan Wow. That put the whole consultant business in this town out of business, it seems to me. Smith It’s not just the consulting business. Oh, of course. It puts out of business all of the interest groups and all of the civic groups that people belong to.
- 1:43:00 Cummings One year ago today when my mother’s dying bed at 92 years old, former sharecropper, her last words were, do not let them take our votes away from us. They had fought, she had fought and seen people harmed and beaten, trying to vote. Talk about inalienable rights. Voting is crucial, and I don’t give a damn how you look at it. There are efforts to stop people from voting. That’s not right. This is not Russia. This is the United States of America, and I will fight until the death to make sure every citizen, whether they’re Green party, whether they’re Freedom Party, whether they’re Democrat, whether you’re Republican, whoever has that right to vote.
- 1:46:00 Karen Hobert Flynn Election day registration is a perfect antidote to a purge so that you can show up on election day. If you see that there’s a problem, then you can register to vote and vote on that day.
- 2:19:00 Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R – ND) North Dakota is the only state in the country without voter registration. We have voting. We have counties that vote exclusively by mail, and we currently have no excuse, absentee ballot, absentee voting. We have, we allow felons to vote immediately upon release from prison. Um, our poll workers are almost exclusively volunteers across the entire state. So in short, we have the, the best and easiest vote voting, voting booth access in the entire country, and we are incredibly proud of that.
- 2:23:00 Armstrong North, we, and this might be a little change, but it’s really important to the voters in North Dakota. So we, uh, we start our absentee or early voting process, I think for military deployed overseas, it says early as August. And we have, as I said, no excuse absentee ballots. But what we require is that our ballots are postmarked the day before the election. And in North Dakota, we really, really try to make sure the election is over on election day. Um, north Dakotans don’t understand how an election can change by 12, 13, 14,000 votes in the two to three weeks after an election day. Now I’m not in the business and telling people in California or somewhere else how to do their voting laws, but that just is something that is not appropriate here. And this would require ballots to be postmarked up until election day, correct? That’s correct.
- 2:24:00 Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) I wish Mr. Meadows were still here because I’m delighted that he’s thinking of stepping into the small donor matching system that has proposed an HR 1. Because when you step into that system, you step into a system that is owned by the people. This is why it’s in the bill because the public is tired of feeling like their elections, their system, their government, their democracy is owned by special interests, big corporations, Wall Street, oil and gas industry, super PACs, lobbyists, everybody. But then this is the power move. They want to own their democracy again.
- 2:27:00 Sarbanes Somebody said, why are we hooking all these things together? Voting ethics, campaign finance, because the people have told us, if you just do one and you don’t do the others were still frozen out. The system is still rigged. You fix the voting stuff, but if you go to Washington and nobody’s behaving themselves, that doesn’t solve the problem or you fix the ethics part, but we’re still, the system is still owned by the big money in the special interests because they’re the ones that are underwriting the campaigns. Then we’re still left out. The system is still rigged. You got to do all of these things together to reset the democracy in a place where it respects the average citizen out there. Who right now is sitting in their kitchen, they’re looking at the TV screen there. They’re hearing about billionaires and super PACs who are making decisions inside conference rooms somewhere on K Street that affect their lives and all they’re saying is we want back in. We’re tired of sitting out here with our nose is pressed against the window looking in on the democracy that we have no impact on. That’s why we’re linking all of these things together to reset the table. So the special interests aren’t the ones that are calling the shots.
- 2:29:00 Sarbanes The provisions of transparency in this bill are targeted to mega donors who give more than $10,000 who right now are hidden behind this Russian doll kind of structure where you can’t see who it is, who’s behind the curtain, who’s putting all this money into campaigns. The public wants to know that that’s reasonable.
- 2:38:00 Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) And I’m deeply troubled at what appears to be a Russian engagement through 501(c)(4)s in this country, whether it’s the NRA or, um, other, uh, nonprofits that are created for the express purpose here in the United States to lobby on behalf of Russia as it related to the Magnitsky Act. Um, so right now there is no limitation on how much money can be contributed by a foreign government entity to a 501(c)(4). Is that correct? Hobert Flynn I believe that is, yes. Speier And there is no disclosure required as well. Is that correct? Hobert Flynn I believe that’s right. Speier So in your estimation, would it be prudent for us to one, limit the amount of contributions that a foreign individual can make to a 501(c)(4), and two, that all of that be subject to disclosure? Hobert Flynn Yeah, I think, I think it would be very important. Um, you know, there are limits. There are bans on foreign nationals giving money in campaign contributions, and I think we should be looking at those kinds of limits for, um, and it’s certainly disclosure for, um, contributions to 501(c)(4)s.
- 2:56:00 Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) You hear so much attack on political action committees, PACs, Mr. Smith, or maybe you’d be best one to answer this. I don’t know, maybe I don’t want us to answer it. Where do political action committees get their money? Smith Political action committees get their money from individuals. Traditional PACs do. Now Super PACS as they’re called, can take money from corporations and unions, but they are not able to contribute directly to candidates. Sort of coordinate anything with candidates. Gibbs I appreciate that. Uh, make the point. Um, because I, I got attacked because I take political action money, but it comes from businesses in my district. A lot of it, it comes from associations. You know, everybody has somebody lobbying for them in DC. I mean, if you’re, if you’re a member, of a retirement association, any organization, you’ve got a lobbyist here.
- 2:57:00 Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) Let’s play a game, let’s play a lightening round game. I’m going to be the bad guy, which I’m sure half the room would agree with anyway. And um, and I want to get away with as much bad things as possible, ideally to enrich myself and advance my interest even if that means putting, uh, putting my interests ahead of the American people. So, um, Mrs Holbert Flynn. Oh, and by the way, I have listed all of you as my co conspirators, so you’re going to help me legally get away with all of this. So Mrs Herbert Flynn, I want to run, if I want to run a campaign that is entirely funded by corporate political action committees, is that, is there anything that legally prevents me from doing that? Hobert Flynn No. Ocasio-Cortez Okay. So there’s nothing stopping me from being entirely funded by corporate PACs, say from the fossil fuel industry, the healthcare industry, big Pharma. I’m entirely 100% lobbyists PAC funded. Okay. So let’s see. I’m a really, really bad guy and let’s see, I’ve have some skeletons in my closet that I need to cover it up so that I can get elected. Um, Mr. Smith, is it true that you wrote this article, this opinion piece for the Washington Post entitled These Payments to Women Were Unseemly? That doesn’t mean they were illegal. Smith Well, I can’t see the piece but I wrote a piece or that headline in the post’s so I assume that’s right. Ocasio-Cortez Okay, great. So green-light for hush money, I can do all sorts of terrible things. It’s totally legal right now for me to pay people off and that is considered speech. That money is considered speech. So I use my special interest, dark money funded campaign to pay off folks that I need to pay off and get elected. So now I’m elected, now I’m in, I’ve got the power to draft, lobby and shape the laws that govern the United States of America. Fabulous. Now is there any hard limit that I have, perhaps Mrs Herbert Flynn? Is there any hard limit that I have in terms of what legislation I’m allowed to touch? Are there any limits on the laws that I can write or influence? Especially if I’m a based on the special interest funds that I accepted to finance my campaign and get me elected in the first place. Herbert Flynn There’s no limit. Ocasio-Cortez So there’s none. So I can be totally funded by oil and gas that can be totally funded by big Pharma come in. Right. Big Pharma laws and there’s no limits to that whatsoever. Herbert Flynn That’s right. Ocasio-Cortez Okay, so awesome. Now, uh, now Mr Mehrabani, the last thing I want to do is get rich with as little work possible. That’s really what I’m trying to do as the bad guy. Right? So is there anything preventing me from holding stocks say in an oil or gas company and then writing laws to deregulate that that industry and cause you know, that could potentially cause the stock value to soar and accrue a lot of money in that time, Rudy Mehrbani You could do that. Ocasio-Cortez So I could do that. I could do that. Now with the way our current laws are set up. Yes? Mehrbani Yes. Ocasio-Cortez Okay, great. Okay. So my last question is, or one of my last questions, I guess I’d say is, is it possible that any elements of this story apply to our current government in our current public servants right now? Mehrbani Yes. Ocasio-Cortez So we have a system that is fundamentally broken. We have these influences existing in this body, which means that these influences are here in this committee shaping the questions that are being asked of you all right now. Would you say that that’s correct, Mr Mehrbani or Mr Shaub? Mehrbani Yes. Ocasio-Cortez Alright. So one last thing, Mr Shaub, in relation to congressional oversight that we have, the limits that are placed on me as a congress woman compared to the executive branch and compared to say, the president of the United States, would you say that Congress has the same sort of standard of accountability? Are there, is there more teeth in that regulation in Congress on the president? Or would you say it’s about even or more so on the federal? Schaub Um, in terms of laws that apply to the president, there’s just almost no laws at all that applied to the president. Ocasio-Cortez So I’m being held and every person in this body is being held to a higher ethical standard than the president of the United States. Schaub That’s right. Cause or some committee ethics committee rules that apply to you. Ocasio-Cortez And it’s already super legal as we’ve seen for me to be a pretty bad guy. So it’s even easier for the president of the United States to be one, I would assume. Schaub That’s right. Ocasio-Cortez Thank you very much.
- 3:04:00 Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) Uh, and when we think about what we’re dealing with, with respect to a campaign finance, uh, are you familiar with doxing? Smith In the sense of outing people online that you’re referring to? Yes, generally. Roy So for example, are you familiar with a Twitter account called every Trump donor, which tweeted out one by one, the names, hometowns, occupations, employers, the people who contribute as little as $200 to the president’s campaign, each tweet, following a particular formula. My point being in the question for you is, when we talk about campaign disclosures, are we aware of the negative impacts that you have on forcing American citizens and exercising their free speech to have that information be disclosed? Whether that’s good policy or not might be debatable, but is there, are there negative consequences to that with respect to free speech given you’re an expert on free speech? Smith There are, and there are definitely studies that have shown that disclosure does tend to decrease participation. Now, that doesn’t mean as you point out that it’s not worth it, but it certainly has costs. And so we have to be careful on how broad we would let that disclosure become.
- 3:11:00 Scott Amey The law is created that has cooling off periods. And so there’s no cooling off period of one year or two year or a permanent bans. HR 1 would move a lot of those to two years I think, which would be beneficial. And there’s even disagreement in our community whether one year or two, you know, what is the appropriate time to kind of cool off so that your contacts aren’t there. But this is also something that President Trump brought up when he was a candidate. He talked about, uh, I think it was Boeing at the time, but he went on record saying that people who give contracts should never be able to work for that defense contractor. This isn’t a bipartisan, this is a bipartisan issue. This is something we can resolve. The laws are already on the books. We just need some extensions in some tweaking of those to improve them and allow people to cool off and not be able to provide a competitive advantage to their new employer or favor them as they’re in office and they’re walking out the door. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) And so you do believe that extending this cooling off period and strengthening these prohibitions would protect the integrity of the process and helped to reign in these flagrant abuses. Amey 100% in one of the nice things with HR 1 is there is an extension of a cooling off period for people coming into government service. Currently it exists and it’s uh, it’s one year. This will move it to two and I think that’s a probably better place to be in. You shouldn’t be handling issues that involve your former employer or clients. Pressley One final question. How might these cozy relationships between government officials and corporate leaders or private contractors help to boost profits for these prison and detention centers? Amey Well, certainly they go with a lot of information, uh, when, when they go over to the private sector. But it also allows them to get back into their former office and within their former agency and call on them. Access as, as you were just pointing out, access is everything in this town. And so if you can get your phone calls answered, if you can get emails read, if you get meetings at that point, that can, not only with members of Congress, but with agency heads that can determine who gets contracts. I mean, it does trickle down from the top and we need to make sure that we prevent as many like actual and also appearances of conflicts of interest as we can.
- 3:17:00 Rep. Carol D. Miller (R-WV) What impact would the passage of this legislation have on those groups that are not political but may put out policy oriented communications? Smith It would be very curious and I’ve given a number of examples in the written testimony. I just say that I should add to this of course that the bill includes personal liability for officers and directors of some of these organizations. So you need to almost have to be crazy to let your organization get anywhere close to this promote support attack opposed standard. And again, what does that mean as I suggested? Well, you know, again, uh, government union might take out an ad maybe in a month, right? Or three weeks from now saying don’t let president Trump, we shouldn’t have to pay because he wants his wall in Mexico, you know, so, so tell them to reopen the government. Is that an attack on president Trump? I think that’s the kind of thing that, that folks would not know and would make people very hesitant to run that kind of ad. Miller So it is a personal risk as well. Smith Yes. Yes. Not only risk. Plus it would be a risk, by the way, as well, to the tax status of some of the organizations involved in many of these organizations might have some type of tax status. 501(c)(3) organizations would have to be very careful because if they engage in speech that is now defined as political speech, 501(c)(3) organizations can’t engage in political speech. They would jeopardize their tax exempt status. So that’s another reason that these organizations would stay far clear of commenting on any kind of public issue.
Video: H.R. 1: A Democrat Political Power Grab, Senator Mitch McConnell, YouTube, January 30, 2019.
Video: Video Tweeted by Senator Mitch McConnell, January 29, 2019.
Hearing: Full Committee Hearing on the “For the People Act of 2019”, House Committee on the Judiciary, January 29, 2019.
- Christian Adams- President and General Counsel, Public Interest Legal Foundation
- Vanita Gupta – President and Chief Executive Officer, Leadership Conference one Civil and Human Rights
- Sherrilyn Ifill – President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
- Adav Noti – Chief of Staff, Campaign Legal Center
- Sarah Tubervillie – Director of the Constitution Project, Project on Government Oversight
- Hans von Spakovsky – Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation
- 10:45 Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) The official title of this bill is The For The People Act. This bill though is not for the people. It’s not for everyday citizens. This bill siphons power from state legislatures, local elected officials and voters, and seeds, power to Washington lawmakers, unelected federal judges and lawyers. This bill is in particular for the unelected elites. It’s for the people who don’t answer directly to the voters. Contrary to it’s name, this bill takes power away from the people and it does this by violating the constitution, by trampling over both the spirit and the letter of our most fundamental laws.
- 32:00 Sherrilyn Ifill Well before the midterm election, in fact, Georgia officials began placing additional burdens on voters, particularly black and Latino voters, by closing precincts and purging. Over half a million people from the voter rolls the voter purge, which removed 107,000 people, simply because they did not vote in previous elections and respond to a mailing was overseen by the Republican candidate for governor Brian Kemp, who was also the secretary of state. LDF and a chorus of others called on him to recuse himself from participating in the election. But he refused.
- 1:08:00 Ifill I think, I think the problem we have is that you know, when we begin talking about the powers between the federal and the state government as it relates to elections, it is of course critical that we look to the constitution and that we look to the articles of the constitution that govern elections. But what we have left out of the conversation at least to this moment is the reordering of the relationship between the federal and state government that came with the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments and the 14th and 15th amendments in particular. The 14th amendment guaranteeing equal protection of laws under, the 15th Amendment prohibiting the denial of the right to vote based on race. National origin includes enforcement clauses that gives this body, the United States Congress, the power to enforce the rights that are articulated in those amendments to the constitution. And it is those amendments to the constitution that provided this body the right, for example, to pass laws like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for which all the same arguments that are being made today about the power of the states, about interference, about what the federal government is allowed to do and not allowed to do were raised and overcome. So the federal government actually does have the power when there is evidence and when they are enforcing the rights under the 14th and 15th, amendments to actually, your word would be interfere, but to engage robustly, in the protection of the voting rights of racial minorities.
- 1:15:00 Vanita Gupta There are over 13,000 election jurisdictions in our country, and elections can be run in a multitude of ways, but it is clear that Congress has the authority to make sure that civil rights are not violated in the course of running these elections. And that there are, there are equitable national standards to guide how this has done. And that is exactly what HR 1 does.
- 1:26:00 Ifill Let me use as an example. Texas has voter I.D. law from your own state the voter I.D. law that Texas imposed after the Shelby decision as a voter I.D. law that they had attempted to get pre-clearance prior to the Shelby decision and pre-clearance was denied, in other words they were not allowed to make that law, become real because of the pre-clearance requirement. After Shelby, the Attorney General, decided that they were going to move forward with that law. It was imposed. We sued. We challenged that law and we won. But in the three years that it took us to litigate that case during that time Texas elected a United States senator in 2014. All 36 members of the Texas delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, various statewide commissioners, four justices of the Texas Supreme Court. Candidates for special election in the state Senate State Boards of Education 16 state senators all 150 members of the statehouse over 175 state court trial judges and over 75 district attorneys. We proved at trial that more than half a million eligible voters were disenfranchised by the I.D. law. We were ultimately successful in challenging but it was too late for those elections and this was a scheme that had been denied pre-clearance. This is the kind of thing that undermines confidence in our electoral system and that threatens our democracy. What excuse can we have as a nation for disenfranchising over half a million voters from all of the elections I just described.
- 1:35:00 Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) Where are the states, Ms. Ifill, that have most of the states that have prohibitions on people having the APP for you to vote if they’ve committed a felony? Ifill Well, they have been all over the country, but certainly there was a concentration in the south. As you may know, some of the history of these laws emanated, at the turn of the 19th century, I guess the turn of the 20th century, after southern states received back their power, they pass new constitutions. This is after the civil war and after reconstruction around 1900 and we saw the expansion of ex felon voting restrictions in state constitutions during that period, when there was a very robust effort to try and disenfranchise, at that point, newly freed slaves who had been free for several decades.
- 2:05:00 Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) It contains a provision where federal tax dollars from hardworking middle class families and single mothers would be lining the pockets of politicians to pay for nasty TV ads and robo calls and paying for politicians, personal childcare and healthcare. Under this bill, it’s estimated that at least $3.9 billion of taxpayer dollars would line the pockets of house congressional candidates based on estimates from Bloomberg and an estimated $6.25 billion with line the pockets of presidential candidates based on the formula in this bill and the 2016 election, for a total of $10.1 billion of taxpayer dollars. To me, this is an outrageous, outrageous use of taxpayer dollars.
- 2:23:00 Hans Von Spakovsky This provision of HR 1 says that if a commission is not established, or if it doesn’t adopt a plan, then, the redistricting lines for Congress will be drawn up by a three judge federal court. Now, yeah, the courts get involved, federal courts get involved and redistricting, but they only get involved when there has been a violation of the voting rights act because there’s been discrimination in drawing the lines or because the equal protection doctrine of the 14th amendment, one person, one vote, has been violated because the districts aren’t equal enough and that’s appropriate. And courts do that. But this bill would give the judicial branch the ability to draw up lines when there’s, there’s been no such violation. And so they’re, in essence, you’re taking a power of the constitution gives to the legislative branch and you’re giving it to the judicial branch.
- 2:52:00 Gupta Well, our recourse used to be that changes in local voting patterns would be reported to the Justice Department and there would be recourse for the Justice Department to ensure that racial discrimination was not animating these changes and preventing people from exercising their franchise. As we said, in 2013, the United States supreme court gutted that key tool of the voting rights act. And it is why HR 1 is such an important, uh, act in order to restore the voting rights act and to restore the ability of the Justice Department and federal courts to actually prevent these kinds of nefarious actions from taking place before elections. Uh, litigation is crucial and groups that have risen to the challenge to, to file section two cases, but they are time intensive and they occur after elections after people have already been disenfranchised and can take years to come to adjudication during which elections are taking place. And so that is why, uh, it is incumbent and unnecessary for Congress to restore the provisions of the voting rights act. Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) So HR 1 will help protect the rights of my American citizens to vote before the election. Gupta HR 1, yes, expresses a commitment to restoring the voting rights act, and, uh, and that is what we hope to achieve in this congress. It is HR 1 also contains a slew of protections that have become proxies for racial discrimination around list maintenance and unwarranted voter purging. Hr 1 seeks to remedy those so that, uh, so that people can have their rights guaranteed before elections take place.
- 3:25:00 Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) And I have to tell you after that, being in Congress for six years, uh, I have come to find that there are so many issues that uh, my republican colleagues and I agree on and that the American people agree that we’ve reached consensus on it and that ranges from reducing gun violence to addressing climate change, to finding healthcare solutions. But my constituents ask and people I encounter across the country always ask, if we’ve reached consensus where 90% of Americans think we should have background checks. Majority of Americans believe that climate change is happening. 90% of Americans think we should have the Dream Act. Why can’t you guys even vote on these issues? And I’ve concluded that it’s the dirty maps and the dirty money. It is rigged gerrymandered maps where politicians from both parties protect their friends and the status quo and it’s the outside unlimited nontransparent money, where Republican colleagues have told me, I am with you on this issue -and I’ve had someone say this to me – I am afraid about how I’m going to be scored, meaning that these outside groups, we’ll give scores based on how you vote and if you’re not with them, they’ll primary you with more money in an unlimited way. And then that’s poisoning our politics and preventing us from reaching consensus.
- 3:27:00 Swalwell I want to start with Miss Ifill, and if it’s OK I want to call you Professor Ifill because I don’t know if you remember you were my civil procedure professor at the University of Maryland. You wouldn’t remember me I remember you. I was not a standout student at all but Miss Ifill according to your testimony Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act would have prevented some of the voter suppression schemes that we have encountered over the past five years. And I was hoping you could articulate some of those schemes today. Ifill Yeah just a few of them. Earlier I spoke about Texas’s voter I.D. law, an I.D. law that had been denied pre-clearance prior to the Shelby decision. Two hours after the Shelby decision the attorney general of Texas tweeted out his intention to resuscitate that law which he did. And we spent three years litigating it. We ultimately prevailed, but in the ensuing three years there were elections for all kinds of offices a law that clearly could not have survived pre-clearance. Just in 2018 we were on the ground in Georgia on election day doing election protection work in Grady County, the polling place had been changed two weeks prior to the election. A notice had been placed in a very small community newspaper but otherwise there was not real notice provided to the community and so people arrived at the old polling place and community residents had to spend the day standing outside the old polling place directing people to the place of the new polling place that had not been properly identified Under Section 5, the moving of a polling place is the kind of thing that you had to submit to pre-clearance and have it approved by the Justice Department before it could be implemented. Now there are a number of people that day who could drive to the new polling place but there were a number of people who had just taken off work and had a limited amount of time to vote and could not drive to the new polling place and so went back to work and were unable to participate in the political process. Those are just two small examples – well, one big and one small – but both consequential of the kinds of changes that would very easily have been averted and the problems that would have been averted had Section 5 been in place wouldn’t have required litigation would have simply required a review by the Department of Justice and an opportunity for the community to resist that change or at least be informed of that change in a timely way.
- 3:28:30 Swalwell As I understand it, and correct me if I’m wrong, if a candidate contacts a donor and tells the donor that there’s ABC Super PAC working on my behalf, that candidate can solicit a contribution up to the maximum that candidate could receive federally. So I think it’s $2,700 today. But I, as I understand it, there’s no disclosure requirement by that candidate that they made that ask. And of course there’s no way to know if the donor made the contribution or not because of the lack of transparency. Is that something that you think maybe we should address? Is having the candidates affirmatively, you know, tell the public that they’ve made requests for Super PAC a help? Adav Noti That’s correct, congressman, but I would go farther than that. Candidates should not be soliciting for Super PACs. Period. Swalwell Agreed. But the FEC allows that today. Noti Currently the FEC allows that. The FEC probably has the authority to put an end to it. Congress certainly has the authority to put an end to it as an implementation of citizens United. But if it’s going to be happening, yes, the public should certainly be aware. Um, and, and journalists and law enforcement should be aware that that is happening.
- 3:45:00 Gupta There is a reason why voters in red and blue states in 2018 voted for independent to create independent redistricting commissions around the country. I think people are fed up with the king that the parties can own their voters. And in fact, voters want to be able to choose their politicians, not have politicians choose their voters. In 2015, the United States supreme court decided that it was perfectly consistent with the constitution to make sure that legislators weren’t drawing their own lines. We stand unique in the world for allowing that kind of thing to happen. Gerrymandering is a uniquely American phenomenon and yet HR 1 really goes a long way to prevent intentional manipulation of district lines for partisan advantage. And it goes through a very carefully calibrated and described process of having five Democrats, five Republicans, five Independents , all randomly chosen from a pool of applicants, sit on an independent commission. There’s specific criteria about how a district lines would get drawn in a plan would need majority support to be enacted, including the backing of at least one Democrat, one Republican, and one independent.
- 4:03:00 Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) Just one year ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, uh, said that our congressional lines were palpably gerrymandered, palpably unconstitutional. And so I’m a little baffled again by my colleague on the other side of the aisle from Pennsylvania who found that to be a troubling decision. It was a constitutionally based decision, uh, and I frankly wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that supreme court decision, which rectified a 13 to five, delegation in Pennsylvania, to a nine, nine matching our voter registration.
- 4:07:00 Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) Florida was one of the states that required pre-clearance before the Shelby county decision. Can you provide us with an example of a change to the voting laws in Florida that were enacted since the decision and what sort of impact it’s had there? Gupta Thank you, Congresswoman. There have been a significant number of poll site closures in the State of Florida, which have created a lot of issues around long lines and accessibility of poll sites. These kinds of changes, as I said, they seem minor because they happen in different places and they’re small in, in uh, you know, just closing up poll site doesn’t seem like it would, would rise to some kind of nefarious effort, but taken collectively, the Justice Department was unable to have any clear indication of what was happening with a number of poll sites being closed locally. And that’s the kind of thing where those kinds of changes would have been pre-cleared or not by the Justice Department to prevent racial discrimination. There are any number of these kinds of minor and major changes that Florida has made since the Shelby County decision that have not been detected by the Justice Department as a result of the Shelby county decision. And these are the things that ultimately corrode people’s confidence in the government and in elections and make people decide to opt out of voting all together is when they feel like their vote won’t be counted or that the system is so rigged against them that there is no kind of accountability for the kinds of these local changes and subtle, more subtle changes that are getting made in previously pre-cleared jurisdictions.
- 4:09:00 Ifill As I understand it, in Florida, for example, formerly incarcerated persons can contribute to campaigns, which means a wealthy former felon like Jeffrey Epstein, who’s been in the news very much, can and does contribute large sums of money to political campaigns. I’m not sure why we would regard someone who had served their time for a crime that they had committed and been convicted of voting. Why we would consider that more pernicious than the ability to contribute to campaigns. We live in an American system of justice in which once you have paid your debt to society, you should be restored as a citizen. That means that you should be able to get a driver’s license. That means that you should be able to get a job. That means that you shouldn’t be banned by the misuse of criminal backgrounds checks from being able to do a job. And it also means that you ought to be able to cloak yourself in the ultimate expression of citizenship in a democracy, which is the ability to cast a ballot and vote. So I don’t see the making a distinction in terms of the crime. Our criminal justice system should ensure that someone is released only when we feel confident that that person is no longer a threat to society. And if our criminal justice system has made that determination, then it seems to me it’s entirely appropriate for that person to return. And also receive the franchise along with their other citizenship rights.
- 4:14:00 Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) Let me just kind of remind you about black and brown people who simply wanted to exercise the right to vote were many of them were the victims of hangings, beatings, burnings, bombings, dismemberments, disfigurements, all for wanting to exercise their basic right to vote. And then when America became more sophisticated, we move from physical harming to poll tax and literacy tests. Questions like how many bubbles are on a bar soap or how many feathers on a duck. We farther in the greatest country in the world did everything that we could, those who were in decision making positions to humiliate, to embarrass, to disenfranchise, how long will we have to still as we sit here in 2019 continue to have to defend a person’s right to cast their vote. The good men who made the decision and women with the voter’s rights act of 1965 didn’t do so because there wasn’t a problem. And when we talk about that was old and that’s in the past. No, that was in my lifetime. And it was actually in the lifetime of several of the members who sit here on this panel. They did so because there was a significant problem, particularly in southern states for which I am a representative of one of them. And so if we’re serious about America being the greatest country in the world, then we all should play a role in making it easier for our citizens, regardless of their race, their sexual orientation, their gender, to exercise that basic. Right.
- 4:15:00 Gupta Independent redistricting commissions exists right now. For example, in California, Arizona, Colorado. Uh, we heard from members of Congress in Pennsylvania talk about the ruling that declare that the way that Pennsylvania was drawing district lines was tantamount to unlawful gerrymandering. They will now also have an independent commission. A number of states in November, just this past November, red states, blue states actually created independent redistricting commissions out of a recognition that voters frankly, are fed up with, with unlawful gerrymandering. These redistricting commissions, they’ve been authorized by the Supreme Court that the, which, as I said, decided that it is perfectly okay for, for, um, legislators to make sure that they are participating in the, in the drawing of their boundary lines. And in places like California, Arizona, and Colorado, that have had these commissions for a while, we have seen, improvements and representation and competitiveness of elections and in voter trust. And so this is why these provisions in HR 1 are so important.
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