In mid-January, when the government was still mired in the longest shutdown in history and millions were suffering as a result, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thought a good way to spend his time was attacking house democrats and the first bill they had unveiled in the new Congress, HR1. Throughout his op-ed in the Washington Post, McConnell consistently stretches the facts and exposes his blatant hypocrisy on several issues.
For those unfamiliar with the bill, HR1 essentially targets corruption in campaign financing and expands voting rights. One of the key components of the bill is public financing of small campaign donations. Under the bill, the federal government would provide a voluntary 6-1 match for donations up to $200. This provision would give more power to ordinary donors, as opposed to the mega-rich. In addition, there would be certain guidelines that candidates would have to follow to receive these matching funds. In Connecticut, for example, candidates seeking public financing must abide by contribution and expenditure limits and disclosure requirements.
All in all, it doesn’t sound all that bad. Unless you’re McConnell, who claims this is simply a ploy for democrats to use taxpayer money to enrich campaign consultants and bankroll attack ads. While it sounds like McConnell is looking out for the little man, he’s just trying to keep power in the hands of rich Republican donors like the Koch Brothers.
In regards to other campaign finance provisions in HR1, Super PACS and other “dark money” organizations would have to make their donors public and any coordination between candidates and Super PACS would be prohibited. Furthermore, social media sites would have to disclose the source of money for political ads on their platforms. These provisions are all strong steps toward having a transparent election process. Citizens deserve to know who is trying to influence them. Or if you listen to the fear-mongering McConnell, “Democrats define ‘democracy’ as giving Washington a clearer view of whom to intimidate and leaving citizens more vulnerable to public harassment over private views.”
Of course, democrats don’t just want to improve campaign finance laws. They would also stop members of Congress from settling sexual harassment claims with taxpayer money. Now McConnell didn’t mention this provision in his op-ed presumably because even he couldn’t cast this in a negative light. Go figure. HR1 would also require that presidential and vice-presidential candidates would have to disclose 10 years of their tax returns. This would allow the public to know whether economic policies being proposed would enrich candidates and help expose conflicts of interest.
The final centerpiece of the democrat’s package is expanding voting rights. HR1 would set up a national automatic voter registration system, ensuring more people are signed up to vote. The bill also designates Election Day a holiday for federal employees, allowing workers more time to vote instead of the narrow time windows before and after work. Partisan gerrymandering in federal elections would be outlawed, as would voter roll purging.
McConnell sums HR1 up as being a partisan power grab. According to him, “From the First Amendment to your ballot box, Democrats want to rewrite the rules to favor themselves and their friends.” If giving common citizens more financial power, expanding voting rights, and increasing electoral transparency is a power grab, then I shudder to consider how corrupted the process has become. The fact that involving more voters in the electoral process is a democratic power grab should tell you a lot about the difference between our two major parties.
While HR1 as a whole has no chance of passing, democrats must keep pushing and advocating for its provisions. Certainly, there is chance for bipartisanship on issues such as preventing taxpayer money from being used to settle harassment claims. More importantly, unless democrats fight for fair and transparent elections, the practices employed by politicians will continue to get shadier. If we don’t check the power of rich donors and corporations, the U.S. will for all intents and purposes become an oligarchy. For the sake of democracy, that must not be allowed to happen.
Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.