H.R.1 – The Opening Act for the 2019 House of Representatives

Contributed by Hui Chen.

The first act of the newly Democrat-controlled House is to give power back to the people and bring ethics back into our government. H.R. 1 – the For the People Act – covers three main areas of reform:

  • Campaign Finance: requiring disclosure of information such as “dark money” and super PAC political donors, of political spending by those who do business with the federal government, of sources for political ads on Facebook and Twitter. It would also provide a matching-fund program for House candidates who agree to raise only small-dollar contributions.
  • Ethics: requiring disclosure of tax returns for candidates for president and vice president – and current holder of those offices; enhance oversight and enforcement power of the Office of Government Ethics; strengthen ethics in the legislative branch by prohibiting members of Congress from using taxpayer money to settle harassment and discrimination cases, and in the judicial branch by creating a new code of ethics for the United States Supreme Court.
  • Voting Rights: creating an automatic voter registration system to change voting from an opt in to an opt out process, promoting early voting, same-day, same-day voter registration, and online voter registration.  It would enhance election security against foreign interference, and end gerrymandering by moving the Congressional districting power from state legislature to independent commissions.

How would these proposed measures help our democracy?
Campaign finance reforms helps make our elected officials answer to us as much as they answer to big money. Running for office is a very expensive endeavor. Everything from signs to brochures to television ads and campaign events costs. It’s a reality that creates continuous pressure for those in office to feel beholden to their financiers. The disclosures proposed by H.R.1 would give us transparency to those relationships so that our officials know we would be watching them. The public matching fund for small donations will also shift more power to individual donors like us.

Government ethics fights corruption and makes sure no one is above the law. Federal government workers, like all other professionals, must abide by strict ethics rules. These rules are there to ensure they conduct government business without the conflict of interest: that laws and regulations are enforced, and contracts and projects awarded, not for their personal benefits or pleasure, but in the interest of the public. The proposed measures under H.R.1 would apply at least some of these rules to elected officials, and to Supreme Court justices.
Voting rights helps every voter be counted. Our entire democracy is premised on people’s ability to vote. Over the last election, we worked hard for every vote. The proposed measures under H.R. are to make sure every voter gets the best chance to exercise that vote, and that when those votes are counted, they are free from manipulation.

Call to Action: What can you do to support H.R.1?
H.R.1 is a large package, and pieces of it are now going into various House committees for deliberation. Find the topics that speaks to you and which committees will be addressing them. Learn the issues, talk to your network, and express your support on social media, in public, and to your representatives. Remember, the overall message of this bill is about democracy and ethics.

Hui Chen is a member of ILNH and a former prosecutor and expert consultant with the US Department of Justice who publicly resigned due to concerns about ethics in the Trump Administration. As an expert in organizational ethics, she is a regular columnist in Bloomberg Law and commentator on MSNBC. Twitter @HuiChenEthics.

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