Democrats and advocates are pushing the U.S. Senate to pass major voting rights and ethics reform legislation called the For the People Act. The House passed the legislation in early March. Lower Hudson Valley Congressman Mondaire Jones recently hosted a Facebook town hall with Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar on the legislation Jones has championed since taking office in January.
The legislation, known as H.R. 1 and now S.1, is a reform package intended to reduce the influence of money in politics, crack down on corruption in both parties, ensure accurate elections and protect voting rights. Democratic Congressman Jones, who represents New York’s 17th District, says that while celebrating House passage of the legislation, attention now turns to seeing the legislation through in the Senate.
“We are so close, we are so close to saving our democracy for the people, and we will win this fight,” says Jones.
Jana Morgan is director of Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of a wide range of organizations.
“Since the 2020 election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, 43 states have already introduced, pre-filed or carried more than 250 bills to restrict or limit voting access this year,” says Morgan. “And passing the For the People Act would create a national standard to protect the freedom to vote and dismantle these harmful bills that would silence Black, Brown and other communities targeted for voter suppression.”
“The For the People Act helps to ensure that the right to vote is no longer up for debate and that voters choose their representatives rather than the other way around,” Jones says.
Democratic Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar chairs the Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight of federal elections and campaign finance law. The committee held a hearing on the For the People Act March 24. The same day, she joined Jones on the For the People Act Facebook town hall.
“So the way I look at it is, one, big victory, we had a landmark hearing. We’ve never had one in the Senate before on this bill. Two, we’re going to be able to get the bill to the floor, and from there we’ll deal with things like can we get support for this bill outside of the Democratic Party. There is nine provisions in it, may I point out, that are bipartisan, including my Honest Ads Act and including the Secure Election Act, and, but we want to keep this bill together because there’s been no action on any of this stuff really since McCain-Feingold,” says Klobuchar. “So the other thing we can look at is reform in the Senate to the filibuster and the like because, and I’m in favor of getting rid of it, as noted. The way I look at it, again, quoting Senator [Raphael] Warnock, why are we worried about the minority rights of some guys in the Senate instead of the minority rights of the people in the United States of America.”
Jones talks about one of the provisions proposed in the For the People Act.
“We need a small dollar matching program in H.R. 1. Our campaign finance system gives the wealthy a megaphone and silences the rest of us. In 2016, just 400 mega-donors contributed a total of $1.5 billion, more than every small dollar combined,” says Jones. “Congress isn’t just funded by wealthy people, by the way, it’s full of them. More than 50 percent of lawmakers in the 116th Congress had a net worth of over $1 million, compared to just 3 percent of the population. Instead of a Congress, we have somewhat of a country club.”
Jones says the program would fix a broken campaign finance system that benefits wealthy candidates.
“And as an openly gay, Black, working-class candidate whose community sent him to Congress, I am an exception, but I should not be. With the Small Dollar Matching system in H.R. 1, candidates like me could be norm,” Jones says. ”Small dollar matching is simple. For every dollar a person donates up to $200, public financing matches that dollar with $6. So a $50 donation becomes a $350 donation.”
Klobuchar says she faced monetary obstacles when running for Senate.
“I ended up, at one point, calling everyone I knew in my life because no one would call me back. And I raised what is still an all-time Senate race record; I raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends,” Klobuchar says. “True story, and has been pointed out by my husband, is not an expanding base.”
Tiffany Muller is president and executive director of the End Citizens United Action Fund. Citizens United was a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that found independent political expenditures by corporations and unions are protected under the First Amendment and not subject to restriction by the government. Those seeking to end Citizens United want big money out of politics.
“So what this bill does is it says, look, if you’re going to spend money to influence our elections you have to disclose who’s funding that,” says Muller. “So if you spend more than $10,000 to influence our elections, you have to disclose your mega-donors, anyone who’s given you over $10,000.”
Muller testified during Wednesday’s Senate Committee hearing on the For the People Act.
“What we heard today during the Committee was that this was a blatant attack on free speech, that this would have this huge chilling effect, that these donors were just going to be harassed and, you know, I just do not believe that this, that money equals speech. I just don’t,” Muller says. “And I don’t believe that the Citizens United decision or any other campaign finance decision somehow grants mega millionaires and billionaires the ability to spend unlimited amounts of undisclosed money. That is not how our democracy is supposed to work. So this, the For the People Act actually says, no, if you’re going to spend money in our elections, we have to know who you are.”
The For the People Act also would ban partisan and racial gerrymandering, adopt independent redistricting commissions and establish automatic voter registration.