HR 1 was the first bill passed by the House of Representatives after the Democrats won control in 2018, and it languished, of course, in Mitch McConnell’s “do-nothing-good” Senate. The question now is whether– with Democrats razor-thin control of that body–it can be passed.
Because passage is truly essential if we are to recover basically democratic governance.
There have been a number of articles and editorials about HR 1, but I particularly agreed with the headline on the subject from Esquire:“If We Don’t Pass HR 1, We Are F**ked As A Nation.”
The headline came from a quote by Josh Silver, who works for Represent.Us, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to ending political corruption, extremism, and gridlock. The organization has promoted model legislation very similar to HR I since 2012. Silver believes that, should we fail to pass these reforms, America will continue what he calls “our decline into authoritarianism.”
“It is these problems that the bill addresses that are the root cause of the extremism and polarization that gave rise to Trump and the new sort of anti-representative form of government that the Republican Party has chosen to embrace. And I’m saying that as a truly nonpartisan guy.”
So–what would this measure accomplish?
Title one of the bill is John Lewis’s Voter Empowerment Act. Lewis introduced it–and saw it die–in five congresses in a row. It would make voting and access to the ballot box easier and more convenient by creating automatic voter registration across the country, and expanding early and absentee voting. It would also restore voting rights for felons, streamline the vote-by-mail process, and prohibit various voter-suppression tactics currently in vogue. It would also beef up election security– promoting the use of paper ballots and strengthening oversight of election-system vendors. (It also evidently backs a grant of statehood for Washington, D.C., although not directly.)
In my favorite part of the bill, HR 1 would take on gerrymandering. It would require states to use independent commissions subject to strong conflict-of-interest rules. District maps would be approved differently, and would be more easily challenged if they are partisan and/or unrepresentative.
Another part of the bill–called the Disclose Act– would address “dark money” in politics.
The bill would institute an “Honest Ads” policy, where disclosure requirements for online political advertisements are expanded and strengthened. It would put in place a “Right to Know” policy where corporations would have to make shareholders aware of their specific political activity. It would root out participation of foreign nationals in fundraising—a foreign money ban. It would, per the name, beef up disclosure requirements for organizations engaging in political spending, including by reinforcing the Internal Revenue Service’s powers and prerogative to investigate misuse of charities to hide the source of political money.
The bill also addresses fundraising for Inaugurations, which has previously been a way for wealthy donors to curry favor with incoming administrations.
And finally, HR 1 deals with lobbying. It closes what has recently been called “the Michael Cohen exception,” where people who don’t lobby directly aren’t covered by some of the registration requirements, and it gives real enforcement power to the Office of Government Ethics. The bill bolsters ethics law in general: it requires presidents to release their tax returns, expands conflict-of-interest policy and divestment requirements, and attempts to slow the “revolving door” through which members of Congress and their staff have moved between government and the private sector, influence peddling while lobbying or serving on corporate boards.
There are other provisions, but this overview gets at the major elements. Every citizen who has railed against vote suppression, despaired of getting rid of gerrymandering, and cursed the outsized influence of big money in politics should lobby their Senators for its passage.