Imagine waking up in an America where H.R. 1: For the People Act of 2019 is the law of the land. Washington, D.C. is a full-fledged state of the Union (so what that the city was profoundly dependent on the federal government and the statehood has given its residents an unfair influence over national politics?). Our Constitution has at least one new amendment to end Citizens United and curb the influence of money in politics, even at the expense of free speech. The Supreme Court, having recently been hit by a flurry of statutory ethics laws, is at Congress’ throat over the questions of jurisdiction and separation of powers. If you thought a few too many candidates were staking a claim to the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, you might be surprised to learn that the number of aspiring office-holders has doubled if not tripled – and not just for POTUS’ seat. People from across the political spectrum are running in record numbers for both the House and the Senate, and the federal government compensates their campaigns generously for the effort.
Earlier in March, H.R.1 passed the Democrat-controlled House. While the Republican Senate Majority Leader McConnell pledged the bill is “not going anywhere in the Senate”, Democrats are not remotely discouraged. As a minority party navigating America’s highly polarized political landscape, the 226 co-sponsors of the bill had anticipated legislative gridlock all along. The hope, as Nancy Pelosi has made clear numerous times, is to eventually ram through individual parts of H.R.1. And, speaking of individual provisions, one, in particular, is likely to have a chilling effect on free speech and pluralism.
Proposed by our own Jared Golden (ME-2nd), the campaign reform introduces a matching donations program at a 6:1 ratio. That is, for every small donation dollar to presidential and congressional candidates, the federal government would match it six times over for up to $200. Increased funding would translate into a younger and more socio-economically diverse field of contenders, the argument goes. I say it is a sweeping attack on pluralism.
Over the years, America has been able to ward off the many dangers inherent to direct democracy by allowing businesses, advocacy groups, labor unions, and other associations to play an active part in our policy-making process. Americans may want lower taxes or greater reproductive rights for women, but given the scarcity of information among the general public, it is often the issue expertise and public policy know-how of private groups that help translate citizens’ desires into legislation. Our national discourse would be much poorer without such organizations as the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, and others. Introducing the matching donations program would severely decrease private group spending on elections – affording the federal government close to monopolistic power over defining policy issues at stake.
H.R.1 is much more than a stumbling block to the lobbying prowess of corporate giants. H.R.1 is the anti-pluralist manifesto that should be clearly identified, discussed, and discarded.