For the People Act: Reforming Campaign Finance, Gov't Ethics, and Voter Protection Laws (H.R. 1)
Do you support or oppose this bill?
What is H.R. 1?
(Updated June 22, 2021)
This bill — the For the People Act — would seek to reduce money’s influence in politics, restore ethics and integrity to government, and strengthen voting laws. The bill is divided into three divisions focused on Election Access, Campaign Finance, and Ethics. Each section is described in detail below.
DIVISION A — VOTING
Title I — Election Access
Voter Registration Modernization
Each state would be required to make online voter registration, correction, cancellation, and designation of party affiliation available online.
State election officials would be required to automatically register any eligible unregistered citizens to vote, while protecting ineligible voters who were mistakenly registered from prosecution; and state agencies and federal offices within states would be considered as contributing agencies for the purposes of registration.
States would be required to permit same-day registration for federal elections, including during early voting.
States’ authority to remove registrants from official voter rolls in federal elections on the basis of interstate voter registration cross-checks would be limited.
Annual state reports on voter registration statistics would be required to be provided to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC).
Help America Vote Act funds would be available for use in voter registration modernization reforms.
It would be unlawful to hinder, interfere with, or prevent an individual’s registration to vote; and the EAC would be instructed to develop best practices for states to deter and prevent voter registration interference.
Access to Voting for Individuals with Disabilities
States would be required to promote access to voter registration and voting for persons with disabilities. Grant funding would be made available for persons with disabilities, and a pilot program allowing them to vote from home would begin.
Prohibiting Voter Caging
Returned non-forwardable couldn’t be used as the basis for removing registered voters from the rolls. Individuals who aren’t election officials wouldn’t be allowed to challenge voters’ eligibility without an oath of good faith factual basis.
Prohibiting Deceptive Practices and Preventing Voter Intimidation
Providing false information about elections to hinder or discourage voting would be prohibited, and penalties for voter intimidation would be increased. The bill would also create sentencing guidelines for individuals found guilty of the deceptive practices previously described.
Released felons’ right to vote would be restored by declaring that citizens’ rights to vote in federal elections cannot be denied due a criminal conviction, unless they’re serving a felony sentence in a correctional facility. States and the federal government would be required to notify individuals convicted of state or federal felonies, respectively, of their re-enfranchisement.
Promoting Accuracy, Integrity, and Security Through Voter-Verified Permanent Paper Ballot
States would be required use individual, durable, voter-verified paper ballots, and to count ballots by hand or using an optical character recognition device. Voters must be given opportunities to correct ballots in case of mistakes. Finally, ballots not be stored in a manner making it possible to associate a voter to their ballot.
Provisional ballots from eligible voters at incorrect polling places would be required to be counted.
There must be at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections. Early voting locations would have to be located near public transportation and be open for at least four hours a day.
Voting by Mail
States would be banned from imposing restrictions on individuals’ abilities to vote by mail.
Absent Uniformed Services Voters and Overseas Voters
States would be required to send absentee ballots at least 45 days before their election. States that fail to do so would incur a civil penalty.
Poll Worker Recruitment and Training
The EAC would be charged with developing model training programs and awarding grants for training.
Enhancement of Enforcement
Individuals would be given private rights of action and ability to file administrative complaints.
Federal Election Integrity
State chief election officials would be banned from participating in federal campaigns, and they’d be banned from using official authorities to affect elections’ results.
Promoting Voter Access Through Election Administration Improvements
The bill would also make various administration improvements to make it easier to vote, including:
Making Election Day a federal employment holiday;
Requiring seven days’ notice for polling site changes; making colleges and universities voter registration agencies;
Requiring the U.S. Postal Service to carry absentee ballots for free;
Allowing states to use HAVA funds to reimburse the USPS for revenue it’d have earned from absentee ballots;
Requiring the EAC to reimburse states for establishing absentee ballot tracking programs; creating a voter information hotline;
Allowing voters to submit sworn written statements in lieu of required identification for voting; and
Prohibiting states from requiring voters to submit sworn statements to cast provisional ballots.
This bill would also reauthorize the EAC and require states to work with it to carry out an assessment of voting systems’ adequacy to meet the demands of the 2020 election. The EAC would submit a report on its findings to Congress with a plan to replace outdated voting systems. States and the EAC would work together to administer post-election surveys.
Title II — Election Integrity
States would be required to adopt independent redistricting commissions for drawing Congressional districts.
Saving Voters from Voter Purging
The bill would respond to the Husted decision by clarifying that failure to vote isn't grounds for removing registered voters from the rolls.
Title III — Election Security
Financial Support for Election Infrastructure
This bill would establish standards for election vendors based on cybersecurity and company ownership. It’d also allow the EAC to issue grants to states for: 1) improving and maintaining election systems; paper ballot systems; risk-limiting audits after elections; and election infrastructure innovation.
The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) would be required to maintain election infrastructure’s critical designation, and to assess threats to election systems at least 180 days before an election and inform state of threats to election systems.
Enhancing Protection for United States Democratic Institutions
The President would produce a national strategy for protecting U.S. democratic institutions and create a National Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions to counter threats.
Promoting Cybersecurity Through Improvements in Election Administration
Voting systems would be tested nine months before each regularly scheduled general election for federal office. Electronic poll books would be defined as part of voting systems, and pre-election reports on voting system usage would be required.
Preventing Election Hacking
Would establish an Election Security Bug Bounty Program to encourage independent assessments of election systems by technical experts.
DIVISION B — CAMPAIGN FINANCE
Title IV — Campaign Finance Transparency
Foreign Money Ban
Contributions and expenditures from corporations with significant foreign ownership or control would be banned, and the application of the foreign money ban regarding separate segregated funds would be clarified.
Dark Money Disclosure
Super PACs, 501(c)4 groups, and other organizations spending money in elections would have to disclose donors contributing over $10,000. Organizations would banned from using transfers between themselves to mask source contributors’ identities. This section would also set forth and clarify rules governing court challenges to campaign finance law.
Large digital platforms would be required to maintain a public database of political ad purchase requests over $500. Direct digital platforms would be directed to implement measures to prevent foreign nationals from directly or indirectly purchasing political ads.
Stand by Every Ad
“Stand by your ad” disclosure requirements would be expanded to include leaders of corporations, unions, and other organizations purchasing political ads.
Secret Money Transparency
Would repeal the existing prohibition on the IRS promulgating rules to bring clarity to the rules governing 501(c) political activity.
Would repeal the existing prohibition on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finalizing rules to give shareholders the opportunity to know about publicly traded companies’ political spending.
Disclosure of Political Spending by Government Contractors
Would repeal the prohibition on the executive branch promulgating rules to require government contractors to disclose all their political spending.
Disclosure Requirements for Presidential Inaugural Committee
Presidential Inauguration Committees would be required to disclose their expenditures. Aggregate contributions would be limited, and funds couldn’t be used for non-inauguration purposes.
Title V — Campaign Finance Empowerment
Findings Related to Citizens United Decision
Expresses that Congress finds that the Citizens United decision is detrimental to America’s democracy and that the Constitution should be amended to clarify Congress’ and the states’ authority to regulate campaign contributions and expenditures.
Would create small dollar incentives to expand the universe of low-dollar contributors and establish an optional, publicly financed 6-1 matching system on small-dollar donations up to $200 for House candidates who demonstrate broad-based support and reject high-dollar contributions.
Would establish a publicly financed 6-1 matching system on the first $200 of a contribution to the presidential campaign of a participating candidate.
Personal Use Services as Authorized Campaign Expenditures
Authorized campaign expenditures would be expanded to include child care, elder service care, rent or mortgage payments, professional development and media training, and health insurance payments in order to make it easier for candidates of modest means to run for and win office.
Title VI — Campaign Finance Oversight
Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) would be restructured with five commissioners in order to break gridlock, and its civil penalty authority would be made permanent.
Stopping Super PAC-Candidate Coordination
“Prohibited coordination” between campaigns and super PACs would be defined. A “coordinated spender” category would be created to ensure single-candidate PACs don’t operate as arms of campaigns.
DIVISION C — ETHICS
Title VII — Ethics Standards
Supreme Court Ethics
Would require the development of a code of ethics for Supreme Court justices.
Foreign Agents Registration
Would increase resources for the FARA office, create a FARA investigation and enforcement unit in the Dept. of Justice (DOJ), and give the FARA office the authority to impose civil penalties. It’d also require foreign agents to disclose transactions involving things of financial value conferred on officeholders.
Lobbying Disclosure Reform
Counseling in support of lobbying contacts is would be considered lobbying under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, and making it something that triggers registration.
Recusal of Presidential Appointees
Would require all presidential appointees to recuse themselves from any matter involving the president, the president’s spouse, or an entity in which the president or their spouse has a substantial interest.
Title VIII — Ethics Reforms for the President, Vice President and Federal Officers and Employees
Executive Branch Conflict of Interest
This part of the bill would prohibit: 1) incentive payments from corporations to individuals entering government service; 2) federal procurement officers from accepting compensation from a contractor to which the officer awarded a contract for two years after leaving government service; and 3) senior federal officials from inappropriately using their position after leaving government service by restricting them from attempting to influence employees in their former agency for two years after the end of their official service.
Presidential Conflicts of Interest
This would state the Sense of Congress that the president and vice president should conduct themselves as if they were bound by the federal conflict of interest law. It’d require the president and vice president to file new financial disclosure reports within 30 days of taking office, and treat the president and vice president the same as members of Congress by prohibiting them from contracting with the U.S. government.
White House Ethics Transparency
Executive branch waivers would be disclosed to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and the public.
Executive Branch Ethics Enforcement
Would reauthorize the OGE and enhance its enforcement mechanisms.
Conflicts from Political Fundraising
Would require individuals nominated or appointed to Senate-confirmed positions and certain other senior government officials to disclose contributions by, solicited by, or made on behalf of an individual. It’d also require disclosure of certain types of gifts to these individuals or their families. The OGE would issue rules or address conflicts of interest identified in disclosures.
Transition Team Ethics
Presidents-elect would be required to develop ethics plans that apply to members of the transition.
Ethics Pledge for Senior Executive Branch Employees
Would codify the Obama-era Executive Branch ethics pledge.
Title IX — Congressional Ethics Reform
Requiring Members of Congress to Reimburse Treasury for Amounts Paid as Settlements and Awards Under Congressional Accountability Act
Members of Congress would be prohibited from using taxpayer funds to settle employment discrimination cases against them.
Conflicts of Interest
Members of Congress would be prohibited from serving on for-profit entities’ boards. Rules prohibiting Members and their staff from using their positions to further their own or their immediate family members’ financial interests would be codified.
Campaign FInance and Lobbying Disclosure
FEC reports and Lobbying Disclosure Act reports would be required to be linked online.
Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports
All Congressionally mandated reports from federal agencies would be required to be published online in a searchable and downloadable database.
Title X — Presidential Tax Transparency
Presidential Conflicts of Interest
All sitting presidents and vice presidents, as well as candidates for president and vice president, would be required to release their tax returns going back 10 years.
Argument in favor
The current political system is broken, corrupt, and badly in need of reform. This ambitious bill restores the promise of government for and by the people by ending money’s influence in politics, re-enfranchising felons, strengthening voter protections, making it easier to vote, and more.
Some of this bill’s provisions overreach beyond the limits of what Congress is constitutionally allowed to do, as it undermines Americans' First Amendment rights to political speech and would have a chilling effect on public discourse. Not only that, but the bill isn't going anywhere in the Senate.
Voters; elections; felons; political donors; small-dollar donors; campaigns; campaign finance; FEC; SEC; Treasury; Congressional staff; Congress; vice president; and the president.
Cost of H.R. 1
The CBO estimates that enacting this bill would cost nearly $2.6 billion over the 2019-2024 period.
In-Depth: Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced this bill to uphold House Democrats’ campaign promises to voters during the 2018 midterm elections. In comments upon this bill’s introduction, Rep. Sarbanes said:
“We (Democrats) carried a message of reform, of fighting corruption, of cleaning up Washington. We made a promise to the American people. The new members who’ve come made that promise and made it clear they wanted this to be the first order of business. [This bill] is delivering on that promise.”
Government watchdog group Common Cause supports this bill. Its president, Karen Hobert Flynn, adds that the House should pass this bill quickly, and then forward it to the Senate to shine a spotlight on the Senate’s response, or lack thereof:
“We urge the House to pass the bill expeditiously and to forward the bill to the Senate in order to shine a spotlight on the Senate’s response – or silence in the face of public demand. Under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that response has been to declare any proposed democracy reform DOA. That stance must change, or the Senate may find itself with a number of new faces in 2021.”
This bill is expected to face stiff opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate, as well as from President Trump. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already announced his opposition to this bill, calling it a "power grab" and saying the "sprawling 622-page doorstop is never going to become law."
Rep. Sarbanes has embraced Sen. McConnell’s opposition to this bill, as he says, “You could stamp on this thing ‘McConnell-rejected,’ and it would immediately give it more credibility… This was built for the public.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote to the House Rules Committee to say that while it supports many individual provisions of this bill, it opposes others that "unconstitutionally impinge on the free speech rights of American citizens and public interest organizations." Specifically, it opposes the following provisions for the reasons listed:
- The DISCLOSE Act "would chill the speech of issue advocacy groups and non-profits such as ACLU, Planned Parenthood, or the NRA that is essential to our public discourse and protected by the First Amendment."
- The Stand By Every Ad Act "unduly burdens constitutionally protected associational rights by requiring widely distributed disclosure of the names of donors to organizations that are not engaged in express advocacy of the election or defeat of the candidate."
- The Honest Ads Acts would expand the "definition of electioneering communications for online ads beyond the bounds permitted by the Supreme Court."
- The Stop Super PAC-Candidate Coordination Act's language defining coordination "appears vague and could be interpreted broadly to encompass communications with the candidate about the public policy issues of the day without sufficient nexus to the potential corrupting influence of very large expenditures."
- The Conflicts from Political Fundraising Act's disclosure requirements "do not appear to be narrowly tailored to serve the government's legitimate anti-corruption goals... All such disclosures will tell the public is that the covered person has been interested in the laws administered by the agency the person will serve, which would seem, if anything, to support that person's qualifications to hold the position, not reveal an insidious conflict of interest."
- The Ethics in Public Service Act "will deny or restrict the government's ability to hire the people of its choice to fill key positions specifically because of their speech and will do the same for private entities' ability to hire the advocate of their choice."
On some issues, such as redistricting, NPR’s Peter Overby reports that some of this bill’s provisions “push the envelope” and reach into state law:
“To settle the controversy over redistricting, the bill would simply take away the power of state legislatures to draw congressional districts and have independent commissions do it instead. That way, presumably, the local politicians could no longer gerrymander the districts to help their party and cripple the opposition.”
This bill has the support of the House Democratic caucus, as well as Public Citizen, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Alliance for Justice, the Center for American Progress (CAP), Common Cause, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, U.S. PIRG, and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
Of Note: This bill’s title, H.R. 1, is a symbolic title meant to emphasize its importance, even if it won’t be the first piece of legislation to get a House vote in the new Congress. Although this bill stands little chance of getting anywhere beyond the House, Rolling Stone’s Andy Kroll points out that it’s important in several other ways:
“[This bill] announces that the health of our democracy is first and foremost on the minds of Speaker Pelosi and her new majority. And it puts down, in one place, a laundry list of ideas and possible reforms that can be individually enacted or adopted at the state level, giving Democrats a starting point for tackling issues — gerrymandering, voting rights and more — that voters increasingly see as vital to the future of this country… [F]aced with the most ethically challenged president since Richard Nixon, Pelosi and the Democrats have signaled that rolling back decades of anti-democratic policies and resuscitating our ailing electoral system is at the top of their to-do list.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang (with contributions from Eric Revell)
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Moussa81)
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