Progressive groups are celebrating legislation proposed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) this week, aimed at fixing the damage done by lax campaign finance laws, partisan gerrymandering, attacks on voting rights, and other aspects of the Republican agenda that have plagued American democracy for years but are becoming increasingly apparent during the Trump administration.
The bicameral We the People Democracy Reform Act of 2017 draws from earlier proposals by both Udall and Price as well as several other Democrats who have signed on as co-sponsors, and calls for greater opportunities for citizens to participate in the political process—something the lawmakers say is sorely lacking following the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which ushered in a new era of big money’s impact on elections.
“This legislation is an enormous step towards empowering voters and ending the corrosive effects of big money in our politics—and it’s a rebuke to anyone says that these are problems that are too big to be tackled.”—People For the American Way
“Our democracy has reached a crisis point,” Udall said in a statement about the proposal. “The American people are losing faith in our electoral process and in our institutions—because they’ve seen too much evidence that our government no longer answers to ordinary citizens.”
The government watchdog group Public Citizen expressed its support of the proposed law. “This legislation offers a package of reforms that address most of the severest shortcomings of our political system,” said Craig Holman of the group’s Congress Watch division. “It gets at the deepest, darkest, and most prevalent problems posed by excessive money in politics.”
One of the law’s proposals involves establishing a new system in which small campaign donations would be matched with public funding and contribution limits would be reduced—providing incentives for citizens to give money to their favored candidates and for politicians to seek small donations instead of relying on contributions from large corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
The We The People act would also do away with voting barriers, requiring states to allow citizens to register on Election Day and implementing automatic voter registration procedures—making every eligible American’s status as a registered voter a feature of citizenship, instead of something one has to set aside time and money in order to secure.
“Our democracy and our right to vote are sacred, yet in recent years they have come under repeated attacks,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). “We must fight back against these efforts, wherever they are coming from. This legislation is a major step forward in making sure that we are always protecting Americans’ right to vote.”
In direct response to President Donald Trump’s actions, the law would also require that all presidents and vice presidents make their tax returns from the three most recent years public, and divest any financial assets posing a potential conflict of interest by placing them in a blind trust. Trump refused to divest his assets from his real estate empire, instead handing over control of his business to his sons and retaining access to the funds.
People For the American Way also endorsed the legislation.
“This legislation is an enormous step towards empowering voters and ending the corrosive effects of big money in our politics—and it’s a rebuke to anyone says that these are problems that are too big to be tackled,” said the group in a statement on Thursday. “This bill has common sense solutions that have the support of Americans across the political spectrum, and it would make an enormous difference in making sure that voters, not big money, are in charge of our democracy.”