For the People Act Is Mostly For the Party Act

For the People Act Is Mostly For the Party Act
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
For the People Act Is Mostly For the Party Act
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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During my campaign last year for a seat in the U.S. Senate, I learned that there is only one political view upon which nearly every American agrees: Our government is broken. Gallup recently found that for the first time, Americans of both parties view poor government leadership as our country’s greatest problem.

Government dysfunction is the result of many years of party leaders trashing our electoral and governing processes for partisan advantage. The system was broken long before Donald Trump was elected president. Party leaders have gerrymandered districts, abused congressional rules for partisan advantage, and protected the special interests that fund their campaigns. These actions are designed to create temporal political advantage, but the long-term result is a system that benefits the extreme elements of both parties at the expense of average Americans.

HR 1, the For the People Act recently passed through the House of Representatives, is an attempt to address some of these structural issues. The bill’s original sponsor is Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat ), whom I met several times before and during my campaign, and whose enthusiasm for campaign finance reform is contagious. Unfortunately, the bill is on the proverbial “express train to nowhere.”

Overall, HR 1 is an important, multifaceted measure that, if implemented, would have a positive impact on our government. Partisan gerrymandering would be replaced by independent commissions responsible for redistricting. Elected officials would be subject to additional ethics rules, including the mandatory release of tax returns from both the president and vice president. The bill would strengthen the provisions in election law protecting us against undue foreign influence. It would also enable the healthy trend toward encouraging ranked-choice voting.

HR 1 also includes some ill-advised policies, however, and omits other needed reforms. The bill’s biggest problem is a new campaign finance system that, rather than requiring absolute transparency for all donations, would funnel large amounts of taxpayer money to fund elections. The measure also fails to address many areas abused by the leaders of both parties. These include:

-- The exclusion of independent voters in publicly financed primary elections;

-- A broken ballot access system;

-- The lack of standardized debate processes, along with the House and Senate rules that both parties have abused, such as the filibuster and the use of unrelated amendments to kill legislation.

The big problem is that HR 1 appears to omit any reform that would adversely impact the Democratic Party. That makes it a show pony. Written to maximize partisan advantage, the Democratic sponsors knew it stood no chance of being enacted. A sincere effort at political reform would have included elements detrimental to both parties, such as open primaries and term limits.  Instead, the Democratic authors cared more about the messaging than actually effecting change. 

I would have liked to see Democrats omit some of the more partisan elements, and work with Republicans on issues they want to include. For example, many Republicans oppose partisan gerrymandering, support securing our electoral systems, and support term limits.

We desperately need political reform, and if we want the change to be lasting, it needs to be done on a bipartisan basis. The failure to get a Republican co-sponsor is inexcusable. I am sure that GOP members of both the Problem Solvers Caucus and the Reformers Caucus that would have engaged this discussion. 

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a dependable partisan warrior, has already revealed that he will not permit a vote in the Senate, I am equally disappointed in the Democrats for all but ensuring that political reform will not become a reality in this Congress. Their strategy seems to hinge upon gaining control of the Senate in 2020, then ramming the legislation through with a thin majority.

The story of the For the People Act highlights how our Congress continues to fail the American people. Instead of addressing the structural problems that cause Americans to view a lack of leadership in government as our single greatest problem, party leaders created a political weapon to use against the other side. In the end, it’s the American people who continue to suffer.

Neal Simon is the board chairman of the Greater Washington Community Foundation and a board director of Unite America. In 2018, he ran as an independent to represent Maryland in the U.S. Senate. You can follow him on Twitter @NealJSimon.

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