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Transparency Advocates Say HR 1 Exposes and Diminishes Foreign Influence in US Elections

Created: 04 March, 2021
Updated: 14 August, 2022
4 min read

The House on Wednesday, March 3, passed HR 1, also known as the "For The People Act," which provides sweeping reform to US elections, including on the subjects of gerrymandering, election security, and the corruptive influence of foreign entities in US elections. The bill passed on a mostly party-line vote, with one Democrat joining Republicans to vote against it.

The "For The People Act" has clearly divided the parties. The bill's author, US Rep. John Sabranes (D-Md) said the 2020 election "underscored the need for comprehensive, structural democracy reform."

"Americans across the country were forced to overcome rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special-interest dark money just to exercise their vote and their voice in our democracy."

Former President Donald Trump, at this year's CPAC, however, called the bill a "disaster" and a "monster." Some Republicans, including Mr. Trump, assert that it is designed explicitly to give Democrats an advantage in elections.

The bill has brought together what Transparency International calls the "largest civil society coalition in recent US history." This coalition, called the Declaration for American Democracy, includes over 170 member organizations, including prominent groups in the nonpartisan reform space like RepresentUs, FairVote, American Promise, Common Cause, Business For America, Fix Democracy First, and many others.

“Americans across the political spectrum believe their government no longer works for them and support transformational change to our democratic systems," the coalition stated after the House vote.

"By passing this comprehensive package, the House makes clear that they are putting the American people first. Once the system is un-rigged, Congress can finally enact policies on the issues that Americans care most about, like  affordable healthcare, clean air and water, gun violence prevention, racial justice, and so many others."

So what is in the bill? Well, several provisions, actually.

Notably the bill allows voters to register to vote securely online and register on Election Day for federal elections. It also requires states to set up automatic voter registration for eligible US citizens to vote in federal elections, and for felons who have completed their sentences.

The bill also requires states to use independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional districts, a topic of urgent importance for some reform groups as states will soon begin redrawing their electoral districts in the wake of the 2020 decennial census. While efforts to reform the redistricting process have made great strides over the years, it is a largely partisan controlled process across the US.

Some of the provisions though that past public opinion surveys and polls have shown have the broadest public support would have a significant impact on foreign money and influence in US elections. Specifically, the bill:

  • Requires U.S. citizens to disclose lobbying done on behalf of foreign governments;
  • Requires 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, referred to sometimes as "dark money" nonprofits since, by law, they do not have to disclose their donors, to publicly disclose their foreign funders; and
  • Prevents entities with significant foreign control from influencing U.S. elections.

"The U.S.’s outdated campaign finance and lobbying laws have left our government vulnerable to attempts by kleptocrats, dictators, and other corrupt regimes to undermine our political institutions," said Scott Greytak, Director of Advocacy for Transparency International’s U.S. Office.

"Without concrete new safeguards to protect our democracy against foreign corruptive influence, America’s adversaries will continue to sow doubt, divisiveness, and discord in our country. The For The People Act is an opportunity for the United States to fortify its government against those who would do us harm, and to demonstrate strong leadership on an issue with global resonance. The Senate should move quickly to approve the bill."

The bill can be read in its entirety here. And, the Declaration for American Democracy coalition has also posted a list of reforms the bill would make to elections, voting, voting security, money in politics, etc. that can be found here.

How the bill will fare in the Senate is an unknown at this point, but the odds it will make it to President Biden's desk appear slim. When the bill was initially introduced in 2019, it quickly passed the House but was never brought up for a vote in the then Republican-controlled Senate. With a 50-50 split, the bill has a better shot this time around of at least making it to the Senate floor, but only marginally and still faces a likely Republican filibuster that would require 60 votes to overcome.

Still, advocates of the bill continue to press members of the Senate to act. The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on March 24.