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Friday, August 23, 2019

Cicilline and Whitehouse push for Senate passage of bills that will better protect democracy

Time to break government gridlock

“Good government isn’t just an abstract idea. It has a direct effect on people’s lives,” said United States Representative David Cicilline.

United States Representative David Cicilline (Democrat, Rhode Island), United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island), and Representative John Sarbanes (Democrat, Maryland), who serves as the Chair of the House Democracy Reform Task Force, hosted a press conference in North Providence today to outline steps that House Democrats have taken to fight back against corruption and self-dealing that has prevented Washington from taking action to address national emergencies, including climate change, gun violence, and the opioid epidemic.

The purpose of the press conference “is to keep pressure on the Senate Majority Leader” to take up and bring to a vote H.R. 1, said Cicilline.

Cicilline also wanted to present “some real life examples of the corrosive effect” money has on the political system on a national and local level.

Citing congressional inaction on issues such as gun violence and climate change, Cicilline said that “Good government isn’t just an abstract idea. It has a direct effect on people’s lives.”

House Democrats passed the most sweeping anti-corruption reforms since Watergate in March. H.R. 1, the For The People Act, ends the corrupting influence of corporate and dark money in political campaigns, restores ethics and integrity, and gives power back to the American voter. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican, Kentucky) has refused to bring up H.R. 1 for a vote in the United States Senate.

“The American people are tired of a Washington full of politicians who can’t get anything done because of corporations and special interests that flood their campaigns with dark money,” said Cicilline, who helped craft House Democrats’ For The People agenda last Congress as a Co-Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC). 

“It’s time to root out the corruption and self-dealing that has plagued our political system for too long. Our constituents deserve a government that works For The People, not just the wealthy and well-off. Mitch McConnell should immediately bring up H.R. 1 so that people can have renewed faith that their elected officials are working with their best interests in mind.”

“The DISCLOSE Act that Congressman Cicilline and I sponsor would dry up the dark special interest money poisoning our politics,” said Whitehouse. “The House has done its job by passing a strong anti-corruption agenda, including our DISCLOSE Act, but Republicans in the Senate continue to block any effort to clean up our democracy and restore power to the American people.”

“Last year, the American people elected a new Democratic Majority in the United States House of Representatives to clean up corruption in Washington and make progress on the issues that matter most,” said Sarbanes, Chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force. 

“As our first order of business, we delivered on that promise by passing H.R. 1, the For the People Act, to fight back against big money in politics, improve ethics across all three branches of government, ensure the right to vote, fix partisan gerrymandering and protect our elections from foreign interference. By cleaning up the culture of corruption in Washington and reducing the power of wealthy donors and well-connected special interests, we can make our government more responsive to the needs and priorities of the American people. If Majority Leader McConnell and his Republican allies in the Senate continue to block this historic and transformational bill, they’ll do so at their political peril.”

As the Chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force, Sarbanes authored the For The People Act, which includes two proposals authored by Cicilline, who also serves on the task force – the DISCLOSE Act, which he introduced with Whitehouse, to shine a light on secret corporate political spending, and the Automatic Voter Registration Act to require states to register eligible voters and make it easier for young people, working people, and minorities to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

“90 percent of people support background checks, universal background checks, red flag laws – but the NRA spent $144M on our elections from 1998 to 2017, including $54M in 2016 alone,” said Tiffany Muller, President and Executive Director of End Citizens United. “And that’s why we saw President Trump just this week pick up the phone and call Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA and say there would not even be background checks…”

“It is time that leaders in Rhode Island and in Washington abandon the gun lobby who profit off of mass shootings and loss. The blood of victims on gun violence is on their hands and the only way we can move forward and pass so needed reforms is if we listen to the majority of voters,” said Linda Finn, founder and executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV). 

“Here in Rhode Island, over 60 percent support banning assault weapons. Nationally, according to a Fox News poll released last Wednesday, 67 percent of Americans favor the ban.”

“While preventing gun violence is a professional, public health issue for me, it is also very personal,” said Pamela Lauria, a volunteer at the Rhode Island Chapter of Moms Demand Action.

“The passage of H.R. 1 will make democracy work for all of us, not just special interests like the oil and gas industry,” said Johnathan Berard, Rhode Island State Director of Clean Water Action. “These corporations dominate elections and buy their way into government, securing policies that support their narrow, destructive agenda. We thank Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Cicilline for their leadership on this critical issue, and in advocating for the passage of the For the People Act, which will not only curb the influence of money in politics but also protect and expand the right to vote and strengthen ethics rules. It is well past time that we restore power to where it belongs—in the hands of the people.”

It has been more than four decades since the comprehensive democracy reforms were implemented in the wake of Watergate. If signed into law, H.R. 1 will make critical changes to three key areas of America’s political system:

Voting Rights

Improve Access – H.R. 1 expands access to the ballot box by taking aim at key institutional barriers to voting, such as burdensome registration systems, limited voting hours and many other roadblocks. H.R. 1 creates automatic voter registration across the country, ensures that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full rights restored, expands voting by mail and early voting and modernizes the U.S. voting system.

Promote Integrity – H.R. 1 fights back against Republicans’ assault on voting rights by committing Congress to restore 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. H.R. 1 also ends partisan gerrymandering to prevent politicians from picking their voters and making Americans feel like their voices do not count.

Ensure Security – H.R. 1 ensures that American elections are decided by American voters without interference by foreign adversaries. The bill enhances federal support for voting system security, particularly paper ballots, and increases oversight over election vendors.

Campaign Finance

Guarantee Disclosure – H.R. 1 shines a light on dark money in politics by requiring any organization involved in political activity to disclose its large 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.

Empower Citizens – H.R. 1 levels the political playing field for everyday Americans, empowering individuals with a multiple matching system for small donations 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 politics and enable Congress to advance an agenda that serves the American people.

Strengthen Oversight – H.R. 1 ensures that there are cops on the campaign finance beat that will enforce the laws already on the books. H.R. 1 tightens rules on super PACs and restructures the Federal Election Commission to break the gridlock and enhance its enforcement mechanisms. It also repeals Mitch McConnell’s riders that prevent government agencies from requiring commonsense disclosure of political spending.

Ethics and Accountability

Fortify Ethics Law – H.R. 1 breaks the influence economy in Washington and increases accountability by expanding conflict of interest law and divestment requirements, slowing the revolving door, preventing Members of Congress from serving on corporate boards and requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.

Impose Greater Ethics Enforcement – H.R. 1 gives teeth to federal ethics oversight by overhauling the Office of Government Ethics, closing registration loopholes for lobbyists and foreign agents, ensuring watchdogs have sufficient resources to enforce the law and creating a code of ethics for the Supreme Court.

Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.