HR 1 Passed the House. Time for Appropriators to Make Good on its Promises

The House can take concrete action to keep the promise of the For the People Act.

By Emily Peterson-Cassin, Project Coordinator, Bright Lines Project

Today, our democracy is out of balance, which makes it harder to solve the big problems facing our country and our communities. Our current system allows powerful corporate and wealthy interests to regularly defy the foundational principles of fairness, equity, ethics, accountability, and respect for the rule of law, with the unfortunate result being a government that is more responsive and accountable to wealthy political donors than to the public. In order to restore balance to our democracy we need to use all of the tools at our disposal, which is why the House of Representatives made HR 1, the For the People Act, their top priority.

The For the People Act is an essential set of measures to increase government accountability and ethics, beef up voting rights, and reform the way our elections are financed. Unfortunately, Senator Mitch McConnell has vowed it will never get a vote in the Senate.

Luckily, the House can do something concrete to keep the promise of HR 1 by removing three poison-pill legacy riders hiding in old language of appropriations bills.  These riders are keeping agencies from making rules to increase transparency and abuse Worse, the riders are keeping voters from finding out information that could be critical to their ballot-box decisions.

The first rider stops Treasury and the IRS from making rules clarifying what counts as political activity for nonprofits. The rider bans the Treasury department from fixing the broken rules around 501(c)(4) organizations that do electoral work, rules that are especially needed given the rise in dark money spending from (c)(4)s over the past several years. The vagueness of the current rule is partially to blame for the steep decline in enforcement for nonprofits that break the rules.

The second rider prohibits the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring public companies to disclose their political spending. In Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the flood gates for unlimited corporate spending in our elections, Justice Anthony Kennedy assumed that prompt disclosures would be the norm. However, this rider stops the type of critical disclosure regime Kennedy envisioned from being implemented and deprives investors and the public of critical information on corporate political activity.

The third rider prevents disclosure of political spending by government contractors. The American people have a right to know whether the companies doing their business are being awarded contracts simply because they give big campaign donations.

For the past few years, these riders have rolled over from one year’s funding bill to the next, with no real shot at correcting their bad policies. But this year there’s a real chance to stop it.  All three poison pill policy riders are expressly removed from any future appropriations bills by H.R. 1.

Because appropriations bills must pass to ensure the government doesn’t shut down, these bills can’t stall in the Senate like H.R.1. If the riders are removed from the House version, that gives negotiators in the Senate the best possible chance to get them out for good.

H.R. 1 was a step toward a more just and equal democracy. We might not be able to enact the full set of reforms now, but we can and should take all the steps to ensure the future of our democracy.