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January 29, 2021
|By Meara Geraty
Digital Content Coordinator, RepresentUs
The U.S. Senate’s first piece of legislation in 2021 will be a sweeping good-government bill called the For The People Act, and it's a huge deal: This bill is the most comprehensive anti-corruption reform since Watergate, and we have a real chance to get it passed — if enough of us join the fight.
RepresentUs members have been pushing for many of the policies in the For the People Act since we designed our model legislation, the American Anti-Corruption Act, in 2012. These two bills are very similar. Here’s how they compare, why their policies are so important, and how you can help catapult the anti-corruption movement to federal victory.
- What’s in HR1: The For the People Act?
- Will HR1 pass the Senate and House and be signed into law?
- Will the For the People Act end corruption?
- Why should we support the Act?
What’s in HR1: The For the People Act of 2021?
HR1: The For the People Act of 2021 is a sweeping package of voting, ethics, and campaign finance reforms that would end gerrymandering, reduce the influence of big money, increase oversight and accountability, secure and modernize our elections, and ensure politicians work for voters, not special interests.
Let’s break that down.
Every ten years, the U.S. conducts a census: the constitutional process of counting every person in the country. Each state then redraws its voting district lines to reflect the population changes.
In many states right now, politicians can draw their own district lines. This gives them the ability to decide the outcome of an election before it even happens. When politicians create districts to favor their own re-election or unfairly favor their party, it's called gerrymandering. It means politicians choose their voters, not the other way around.
Thanks to the anti-corruption movement, several anti-gerrymandering laws have passed in recent years: 7 states, including Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan, have outlawed gerrymandering. These states take partisan politics out of the redistricting process, ensuring voting maps are drawn by independent commissions.
The For the People Act would build on this momentum by making gerrymandering illegal in all 50 states.
Modernize Voter Registration
The U.S. is the oldest democracy in the world — but we lag far behind other developed, democratic nations in terms of voter turnout. Just over half of the voting age population actually voted in 2016, and while turnout soared in 2020, we still have a ways to go. We can’t have a government of, by, and for the people if we the people don’t turn out to the polls. But our current “opt-in” voter registration process is messy, out of reach, and often out of date — making it harder to register and turn out to vote.
The Act would make registering to vote simpler and smoother by expanding Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) nation-wide. Already established in 18 states, AVR seamlessly and automatically keeps voter rolls accurate and up to date. It works by creating an “opt-out” system for voter registration. Any time you interact with a government agency (think the Department of Motor Vehicles or other state and federal agencies), you’ll be automatically registered to vote or have your voter information updated, unless you choose to opt out.
If you don’t opt out, your information is electronically transferred from the agency to election officials. That way, AVR seamlessly and automatically keeps our voter rolls accurate and up to date. Plus, since many of these agencies require identification to complete the paperwork, AVR provides tighter security.
The Act also requires states to offer online and same-day voter registration. That way, you can register to vote on Election Day or during early voting, ensuring voting is simple and secure for eligible voters.
Enhance Voting Access
Registering to vote is the first step — the second is actually casting a ballot. Even for registered voters, the process of voting can be inconvenient and time consuming. Think about it: voting on a Tuesday in November requires Americans to take time off work, find child care, get transportation to the polls, and sometimes wait in line for hours just to vote.
The For the People Act would expand the number of options and amount of time for voters to return their ballots, making voting more accessible. It would require all states to offer at least 15 days of early, in-person voting for federal elections and no-excuse absentee voting (aka vote by mail). Voters would have a variety of secure return options for their mail-in ballot.
In addition, the bill would restore voting rights to former felons and formally call for stronger voting rights for Native Americans and residents of Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories.
Secure Our Voting Systems
With foreign and domestic threats to the integrity of our elections, it's more important than ever that our electoral systems are secure. But right now, states use a messy, patchwork system, with many relying on electronic voting machines without a paper trail.
The Act would defend our future elections by ensuring every state is following the most secure practices and have up-to-date voting equipment. It would require states to use individual, voter-verified paper ballots — widely regarded as the most effective secure voting system. States would notify voters of mistakes with their ballot that could prevent it from being counted and give voters plenty of time to fix (or "cure") their ballots. It would also increase oversight of election systems, develop a national strategy to protect our democratic institutions, and provide funding for election system upgrades.
Shine a Light on Dark Money
The 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United enabled vast amounts of dark, untraceable money into our political system. In the past decade, dark money groups have donated over $1 billion in secret money to candidates and campaigns. When Americans don’t know where massive campaign funds are coming from, they can’t know who is trying to influence their vote, or why.
The Act would take significant steps to stop secret campaign donations by requiring that organizations spending money on elections or judicial nominations disclose their donors who contribute more than $10,000. It also extends disclosure requirements to the internet and digital communications, and breaks the practice of big-money donors and special interests hiding their true funding sources.
Plus, though symbolic rather than impactful, the Act would formally denounce the Citizens United decision and recommend it be amended.
Empower Everyday Americans Through Public Financing of Elections
Since 2010, just eleven people have contributed a fifth of the $4.9 billion super PACs have raised. Money drives campaign ads, voter outreach, and other vital aspects of a candidate’s path to victory. When a handful of elite individuals get to decide how billions of these dollars are spent, they get to decide our elections.
The For the People Act would level the playing field, giving voters a way to fund candidate campaigns without costing them a penny.
The Act establishes a 6-to-1 matching system for congressional or presidential candidates who agree to reject big contributions. That means that everyday Americans could increase their political influence 6-fold, turning a $10 donation to a candidate into a $60 donation.
The best part? It would cost taxpayers nothing. Instead, the matching system would be funded entirely through extra charges on settlements paid by wealthy tax cheats and corporate law breakers.
In states like Arizona and Connecticut this system is already implemented and it has enabled candidates to raise more money from small-dollar donors, making for a more diverse and representative influence on their campaigns and political decisions. It allows candidates to rely less on high-dollar fundraisers, so they can spend more time in their communities. That way, qualified candidates can stay competitive without losing sight of what really matters: their voters.
Additionally, the Act would establish “democracy dollars” pilot programs in three states. Instead of multiplying the donation an average American makes to their candidate of choice, it establishes a pre-paid voucher program, enabling eligible citizens to request $25 vouchers which they can then donate to their chosen U.S. House candidate. In Seattle, which uses a similar system, political campaigns are supported by a broader and more diverse pool of donors.
Increase Oversight and Accountability to Enforce Existing Laws
Even the best laws mean nothing if they’re not enforced — and our enforcement mechanisms have been broken for too long, allowing rule breakers to slip through the cracks. In the U.S., the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is responsible for enforcing federal campaign finance laws. In recent years, the FEC has been hamstrung by gridlock and partisanship, creating a backlog of cases.
The For the People Act would begin to reinvigorate the FEC to make sure candidates can’t get away with breaking laws. It would prevent gridlock by requiring an odd number of commissioners, so that crucial enforcement actions and decisions can be made by majority vote, instead of getting stuck in a tied vote.
Strengthen Lobbying Rules and Transparency
Right now, special interests regularly hire lobbyists to influence politicians and design policies that would benefit their bottom line, instead of the American people. Special interests in the health, finance, education, and other industries spend billions lobbying each year — and this money buys them access to lawmakers that the American people don’t get.
The Act would crack down on lobbying and reduce lobbyist influence on politicians by: 1. Broadening the definition of lobbying (to stop consultants and counselors from wielding under-the-table influence); 2. strengthening disclosure rules (so that we know who is making money off of pressuring our officials); and 3. prohibiting foreign countries from hiring lobbyists to influence our elections.
This would close loopholes and increase transparency, so special interests can’t slip their influence under the radar and pull politicians’ strings in secret. It would also establish a public clearinghouse of information, so that anyone can easily access a searchable online database of lobbyists and their actions.
Slow the “Revolving Door” and Strengthen Conflict of Interest Rules
While an elected official is in office, they build key relationships with policy makers and other influential politicians. And when they leave, they often leverage that political influence to give private companies even more access to lawmakers — in exchange for cold hard cash.
When former politicians move easily between public office and the private sector, this is known as the “revolving door” — and it's a major way that corporations influence public policy. The Act doesn’t close the door all the way — but it does require officials to wait two years before joining an industry they oversaw in government service or awarding contracts to their own former employers. It also restricts senior officials from lobbying their old coworkers for two years.
The Act would require officials to disclose conflicts of interest and take an ethics pledge, and strengthen enforcement and oversight of these issues. It would require presidential and vice presidential candidates to publish their tax returns.
We've tried to be comprehensive and detailed in explaining the contents of this bill, but you can also read the full text of the Act here.
Will HR1 pass the Senate and House and be signed into law?
Yes — if enough Americans take real action to fight for it.
We already know that anti-corruption is a unifying force in America. It draws support from voters across the political spectrum. A recent poll found that 67% of all likely voters support the For the People Act, including over half of Republicans and over 70% of Democrats.
That’s why we’ve launched a massive public pressure campaign to make sure this bill passes. We’ll use every tool in our toolbox including phonebanking, textbanking, petition signatures, and public awareness stunts to spread the word about this vital bill and pressure lawmakers to support it. Find out how you can plug into the action and help pass the For the People Act.
Will the For the People Act end corruption?
The For the People Act is the most comprehensive anti-corruption law since Watergate — but it still lacks some of the crucial policies we need to truly unrig our political system. Here’s how the For the People Act compares to our model legislation, the American Anti-Corruption Act.
The American Anti-Corruption Act (AACA) was designed in 2012 by leading experts from across the political spectrum. Like the For the People Act, the AACA would end partisan gerrymandering, strengthen vote by mail, enact Automatic Voter Registration, change how elections are funded, and bring transparency, accountability, and ethics to our political system. But that’s not all.
While the For the People Act would bring important reforms to our elections systems, the AACA goes further.
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Now, the most important thing you can do is invite others to join, too.
Establish ranked choice voting and open primaries
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a simple change to the way we vote that has incredible power to reduce partisanship, break the two-party system, end the “spoiler effect” and make campaigns more issue-focused and less divisive. Sounds like a lot for a small change, right? Here’s how it works.
Right now, our elections work on a “first past the post” system. That means the candidate with the most votes wins, even if they don’t actually have support from a majority of voters. With RCV, instead of choosing one candidate, you can rank multiple candidates in order of preference — that means you can vote your conscience without accidentally electing someone you don’t like. Plus, candidates are forced to campaign for both first and second place votes, which incentivizes positive, issue-focused campaigns and discourages nasty, partisan fights.
Check out this ad from a 2018 Maine primary to see how RCV changed the way candidates campaigned.
When combined with open primaries, Ranked Choice Voting becomes even more powerful. Open primaries allow all candidates for the same office to compete in a single election, instead of having separate primary races for each party. This means voters have control over their elections, instead of political party bosses.
Enact Reasonable Term Limits
When elected officials are permitted to remain in office for decades as career politicians, our elections become uncompetitive and innovative ideas or new issues struggle to break through. The AACA calls for reasonable, 18-year term limits on lawmakers, so that candidates focus on public service instead of staying in office.
Close the Revolving Door
The For the People Act would make crucial strides towards closing the revolving door, but the AACA would take it further, requiring 5-year waiting periods before former officials could lobby their former colleagues. The AACA would also prohibit politicians from negotiating job offers or arranging future private sector jobs while in office.
Ban Lobbyist Contributions
The AACA would prohibit lobbyists from donating to officials. That means taking away the best tool special interests have to influence our government. It would also ban lobbyist bundling, a practice that currently enables lobbyists to act as major fundraisers, pumping millions of dollars into our political system, and giving excessive power to lobbyists.
Prevent politicians from fundraising during working hours
Politicians should spend their time fighting for the people, not bankrolling their next campaign. But right now, most members of Congress spend between 3 and 7 hours a day fundraising from big donors. The AACA would prevent politicians from raising money during the workday, so they spend that time serving their constituents, and not their reelection campaigns.
End secret money
Like the For the People Act, the AACA would bring transparency, accountability, oversight, and enforcement to campaign finance, ending dark money and breaking the grip of Big Money on our political system.
The AACA has tighter standards for disclosing donors, lowering the dollar amount that would trigger the required disclosure from the proposal in HR 1. Plus, as noted above, the AACA stops secret money from being concealed through lobbyist bundling.
If the For the People Act won’t end corruption, why should we support it?
Change doesn’t happen overnight — especially when those in power are incentivized to maintain the status quo. Successful grassroots movements have won in the past by building momentum for sweeping federal reform through vital, piecemeal policies at the state, local, and national levels. That’s how RepresentUs members have racked up over 124 wins since 2012: by passing individual or combined policies in cities and states around the country.
In fact, it’s because of this momentum that we now have a chance for massive federal reform. The For the People Act won’t solve our corruption crisis entirely — but it’s an opportunity to make incredible progress on a host of issues that have long plagued our government, and it would build even more momentum for future wins.
The For the People Act is the biggest anti-corruption reform in generations. We must do everything in our power to get it passed. If enough of us take real action, we can win this fight. And once we do, the anti-corruption movement will be there to defend this progress, and continue to fight for the other important reforms laid out in the AACA. We’re in this for the long haul, and we hope you are, too.
Sign up on this page to join the movement to end corruption, pass the For the People Act, and defend democracy at every turn.