Landmark legislation will fix broken campaign finance system, restore accountability to elections, & empower voters
Includes new provisions to address unprecedented conflicts of interest arising from Trump administration
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) joined Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative David Price (D-N.C.) to introduce the We the People Democracy Reform Act of 2017. This bicameral legislation addresses a series of comprehensive democratic and electoral reforms to restore integrity, accountability, and transparency to our broken political system.
This legislation is more expansive than past versions and includes proposals to comprehensively reform campaign finance laws, increase transparency and accountability in the political system, end extreme partisan gerrymandering, increase voter participation, and strengthen lobbying and revolving door laws. A summary of its provisions is available here.
“From campaign finance loopholes to voter suppression efforts, our democracy is under attack,” said Markey. “We need to restore faith in our bedrock institutions and put our democracy back into the hands of the American people. The ‘We The People Democracy Reform Act’ would ensure our democracy runs on people power, not special interest pocketbooks. I thank Senator Udall for his leadership in championing this effort that is needed now more than ever.”
“Our democracy has reached a crisis point,” Udall said. "The American people are losing faith in our electoral process and in our institutions – because they’ve seen too much evidence that our government no longer answers to ordinary citizens. Disastrous Supreme Court decisions have opened up the floodgates for secret, special interest money to drown out the voices of regular people. Foreign adversaries are interfering in our elections. Voting rights are under attack across the country. And big money donors are being rewarded with cabinet posts, high-ranking positions and special access. It’s long past time that we took action to restore confidence and accountability in our democracy. The ‘We the People Democracy Reform Act’ will empower us to take back our democracy and return it to the hands of all Americans, instead of a privileged, powerful few."
“For too long, Washington has neglected the systemic issues undermining our democracy,” Price said. “A lack of accountability in our political system has left the door open for mega-donors, foreign actors, and other groups to exploit our elections and curtail our ability to get things done on behalf of the American people. The ‘We the People Democracy Reform Act’ offers common-sense solutions that would boost accountability, empower regular citizens, and restore public confidence in our democratic institutions.”
This new legislation builds upon a number of bills introduced by Udall, Price and many others to address various shortcomings in our voting and political system. This package would make significant strides toward repairing our broken political system, which has contributed tremendously to diminishing public confidence and lack of voter participation. Additionally, this bill will serve as a model for states and localities to implement reform at the local level.
The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Angus King (I-Maine), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
The bill has received endorsements from The Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, People for the American Way, the Center for American Progress, and Public Citizen as well as policy leaders such as Norman Eisen, board chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and chief White House ethics lawyer for President Obama (2009-2011) and Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer for President Bush (2005-2007).
“Our Constitution begins with three simple words: We the People. That is what our unique, American system of governance is all about,” said Merkley. “But in recent years, special interests have turned this foundational principle on its head, working instead to establish government of, by, and for the powerful and privileged. We’ve got to put an end to the rigged political system in order to tackle the fundamental issues of our time—good-paying jobs, affordable health care, and a fair shot at the American dream for every family. It’s time to take on special interest influence at every level, from campaign cash to corporate lobbyists, and restore government of, by and for the people.”
“The disastrous Citizens United decision unleashed a tsunami of dark money and special interest influence in our politics. Now it’s easy for corporations and billionaires like the Koch brothers to drown out the voices of the American people,” said Whitehouse. “We need to end the rigging of our democracy, and that starts with shedding light on dark money and the other important reforms in this bill. The availability of these methods to foreign actors like Vladimir Putin makes this all the more urgent.”
“Dark, unaccountable money is flooding our elections and damaging our democracy, advancing the special interests of large, anonymous corporations, at the expense of hardworking Americans,” said Leahy. “This is happening at the same time that voters are routinely disenfranchised by arbitrary rules and even discriminatory policies. The We the People Democracy Reform Act would help level the playing field by shining a spotlight on corporations that secretly influence our elections, and by protecting Americans’ fundamental right to vote. I am proud to again cosponsor this vital legislation in defense of our democracy and the rights of all Americans to have their voices heard.”
“The latest presidential election clearly showed that outdated voting systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks, foreign interference and even run-of-the-mill counting errors,” said Wyden. “We the People works to restore confidence in our elections and reverse the rising trend of voter suppression efforts by including legislation like my Vote By Mail bill, which offers better access to all voters. It also tackles the dark money flooding our elections from the far corners of the globe. Americans deserve to know the true interests behind the political ads they see and the campaigns of the candidates they choose to support.”
“I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation to put the power of our political system back into the hands of the American people, where it belongs,” said Durbin. “The Supreme Court’s rulings in cases like Citizens United have effectively given corporations, special interests, and the wealthy few a blank check to influence politics and politicians in our country. We need these reforms now more than ever to curb the power of big money interests and protect our democracy.”
“We need to restore confidence in our political system and ensure the voices of the American people are heard in elections — and not drowned out by big donors or corporations,” said Klobuchar. “Passing bills like these will make voting easier and bring transparency and accountability to our broken campaign finance system.”
“Our democracy and our right to vote are sacred, yet in recent years they have come under repeated attacks,” said Gillibrand. “We must fight back against these efforts, wherever they are coming from. This legislation is a major step forward in making sure that we are always protecting Americans’ right to vote, so that our democracy remains strong and transparent, and our leaders are accountable to the people. I am proud to support this effort, and I urge all of my colleagues in the Senate to support it.”
“The American people deserve to have trust in the fact that we have ‘a government of the people, by the people, and for the people,’” said Baldwin. “We can restore Americans’ faith in government by ending financial industry golden parachute bonuses and working to stop the revolving door that Wall Street uses to rig the game against an economy that should work for everyone. Hardworking American families are struggling to get ahead and they can’t afford to have special interests in a cozy relationship with the government. We need to make sure that government officials are working on behalf of the public interest and our common good.”
“In Maine, we still have town meetings. These meetings are the finest examples of democracy at work: anybody with an opinion can walk into the meeting and work to sway the voters to their side,” said King. “What you can’t do, however, is walk into the meeting with a bag over your head, or pay to anonymously plaster the room with negative ads. You have to let people know who you are and stand by your word. Unfortunately, those same rules don’t apply to our current campaign finance system. Anonymous people and groups can spend huge amounts without ever revealing their true identity – it’s not healthy, it’s not right, and it needs to be stopped. That is why I’m proud to join with my colleagues to introduce this important legislation, and will continue pushing for serious campaign finance reform – like greater transparency – as I have throughout my time in the Senate.”
“Americans look at Washington and see a giant ‘Government for Sale’ sign,” said Warren. “They see politicians working hard to advance the interests of rich donors while ignoring the issues facing their constituents back home. The We the People Act works to get rid of ‘Government for Sale’ by making it harder for wealthy individuals and giant corporations to dump unlimited sums of money into the political process, restricting the influence of industry lobbyists in Washington, and making it easier for Americans to vote.”