America’s democracy, not unlike any other, has its shortcomings. Critics mostly point to problems in the areas of voter registration, campaign spending, partisan redistricting of constituencies, and ethics in governance. Many proposals have been made over the years to fix these flaws.
Here’s a summary of a recent such attempt… House Democrats Introduce Anti-Corruption Bill As Symbolic 1st Act. And the article below is an explanation, albeit by Democratic partisans, of the changes proposed.
But there is no consensus or mass movement behind these suggested changes. Easing voter registration requirements is opposed by those who insist that each voter must be a citizen. Proposals for public financing of election campaigns are opposed by those who do not wish taxpayer money used for politics. Partisan redistricting of constituencies is done by both major parties, but the matter is entangled in a federal versus state rights fight. And as for ethics in governance, neither party has the moral high ground.
Yet over the years substantial progress has been made in fixing these shortcomings. That usually happens when these issues are approached on a bipartisan basis. Both major parties–Democrats and Republicans–work together to find common ground. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the intention of the latest entrants in Congress.
January 15, 2019
[Excerpts of an article published on Politico.com]
How to Fix America’s Broken Political System
A new bill promises to protect our democracy from its enemies, but foreign and domestic.
By Norman Eisen and Fred Wertheimer
Much attention has focused on H.R. 1, the comprehensive package of democracy reforms introduced on Thursday by Representative John Sarbanes (D-Md.) on behalf of the new Democratic House majority. The unprecedented legislation is perhaps the most important domestic initiative of the new Congress. But it also has the capacity to begin fixing what has been broken in our foreign relations, reassuring our allies that America is on the way back to restoring our democracy, and with it our global leadership.
Since 2016, the United States’ friends around the world have been faced with a dual shock: Russia’s multipronged attack on our elections that year and the ascension of President Donald Trump, who has criticized our longtime partners while embracing authoritarians like Russian President Vladimir Putin—despite his assault on our democracy.
H.R. 1 reforms our broken political system but it also addresses the concerns of Americans and allies alike who are anxious that our elections are vulnerable to future foreign attacks. The bill incorporates election security reforms that are long overdue. It would establish standards for election vendors, provide significant assistance to states to improve and protect their election systems, and bolster federal efforts to assess and respond to threats to election systems.
H.R. 1 also responds to Putin’s violations of our campaign finance laws. Russian agents spent money on campaign ads in the United States in 2016 in violation of the ban on foreign governments making expenditures to influence our elections. They have run other ads to foment divisions while hiding their role as the sponsors and funders of the ads. H.R.1 contains new disclosure provisions to ensure the American people know the actual sponsors of the ads. This will also help us prevent illegal campaign expenditures by foreign interests in our elections.
But Congress’ efforts to protect our democracy— and to communicate to the world that we are doing so — must go beyond merely preventing another such catastrophe. Our allies and our adversaries know that the most fundamental aspect of democracy is broken in the United States: The promise that every citizen can freely exercise the right to vote. The obstacles to voting in some states, including voter suppression and discrimination, is a national—and international—disgrace.
H.R. 1 addresses this problem in numerous ways. Key reforms include requiring states to register eligible voters automatically and to offer online and same-day registration options as well; ensuring that the franchise is not denied because of a criminal conviction to those who are no longer serving a sentence; and establishing Election Day as a national holiday. When elections can be decided by just 80,000 votes spread across three states, as happened in the 2016 presidential race, barriers to voting combined with Russian interference can make the difference in election results.
Next, there is the shocking role of big money in American elections. One of the authors is a former ambassador who has often experienced the amazement of foreign leaders at the ways that huge, influence-seeking, secret donations flood our elections and government decisions. To win an election, you need the votes, but you also need the money, for the costs of seeking office have increased dramatically over the past 20 years.
The solution to this problem too is found in H.R 1, which creates new, alternative financing systems for congressional and presidential races that allow candidates to run for office without becoming dependent on and obligated to big money funders. The bill addresses this by creating small-dollar, public matching funds systems for congressional and presidential elections in which contributions of up to $200 are matched with public funds at a 6-1 ratio. This empowers ordinary Americans by making their small contributions much more valuable to candidates. At the same time the systems greatly dilute the power and influence of influence-seeking funders by freeing up candidates from dependency on their money.
One might of course wonder how much H.R. 1 matters since it is unlikely to garner support in the Senate in this Congress, much less win Trump’s signature. But history teaches that the bill should be taken seriously: Americans never let a good scandal go to waste.
In the wake of the Watergate scandals in the early 1970s, Congress enacted the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 and the Ethics in Government Act of 1977. In the wake of the “soft money” scandals of the 1990s, Congress enacted—after years of obstruction by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. It barred unlimited contributions to political parties. In the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals of the 2000s, Congress enacted the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 that contained important lobbying and ethics reforms. One or both of us was actively involved in each of these successful reform battles.
This article was first published on Politico.com on 7 January 2019
Norman L. Eisen is a former United States ambassador to the Czech Republic, the chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), and the author of The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century In Five Lives and One Legendary House.
Fred Wertheimer is the founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes government integrity, transparency and accountability.