Leaders urge Biden administration and Congress to double down on democracy reform by passing H.R.1—the For the People Act—as a top priority post-election
Leaders from the Declaration for American Democracy—a coalition of over 170 organizations serving the public interest—joined democracy reform champions House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Chair of the House Democracy Reform Task Force U.S. Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD), on a press call to highlight the urgent need for federal leaders to advance bold change in our democracy.
The speakers called for the immediate passage of H.R.1—the For the People Act—a once-in-a-generation democracy reform package to clean up our political system, get big money out of politics, hold elected officials accountable for corruption, expand and protect voting rights, and create a democracy that values the voices of all Americans.
The need to repair our democracy has become even more evident in recent months leading up to the election with voter intimidation efforts across the country and the sometimes confusing rules around voting that differ in each state. The For the People Act would eliminate confusion and increase access to the ballot.
Below are statements of support from leaders of organizations in the Declaration for American Democracy coalition.
Jana Morgan, Director, Declaration for American Democracy:
“We all want a country where elected officials represent their constituents more than their big dollar donors. We want a country where our leaders at the highest levels are ethical and are held accountable when they are not. We want a country where all voters get a fair chance to vote and have their vote count. The Biden-Harris Administration and new Congress now have the chance to change the system and allow our country to truly realize the promise of American democracy.”
Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen:
The American people overwhelmingly favor ensuring all Americans have health care coverage and aggressive measures to cut drug prices. But we don’t get the policies we want – because our democracy is broken. The transformative policies of the For the People Act will heal not just our democracy but, quite literally, the American people.
Vanita Gupta, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“Our democracy works best when everyone participates. When people can’t equally access the ballot and when they are not adequately represented in the ranks of power the promise of our democracy goes unfulfilled. Lawmakers, regardless of party, should care about making sure that we have a democracy that works for all – and H.R. 1, the For the People Act, includes critical reforms that would address the challenges voters faced across the nation this year. We urge the next Congress to pass this critical civil rights bill.”
Valarie Long, International Executive Vice President, SEIU:
“Essential workers in Black, brown and Asian and Pacific Islander communities turned out in record numbers and sent a clear message: respect us, protect us, pay us,” said Valarie Long, International Executive Vice President of SEIU. “To make our demands a reality, we need to pass HR1 right away. Workers need a stronger voice in our democracy and a seat at the table to tackle structural racism, win health care for all, and ensure all workers can form a union and get paid fairly for the work they do.”
Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club:
“This election further exposed the blind spots in our democracy, and the urgency with which Congress must act to address them. Access to our democracy must not be determined based on where you live, the color of your skin, or how much money you donated to a candidate; rather, it must be available for all people. The Sierra Club is proud to rise with our allies across the movement in support of Speaker Pelosi, Representative Sarbanes, and Senator Merkely’s bold and necessary H.R. 1, which will strengthen the integrity of our democracy and protect our environment by reigning in the inequitable influence of corporate polluters and extractive industries in our elections.”
Michael Waldman, President, Brennan Center of Justice at NYU Law:
“This election showed how much people care about the strength of our democracy. Despite voter suppression, despite the pandemic, we saw the highest voter turnout in over a century. Democracy reform must be at the center of our politics. To respond to the call for racial justice, to ensure that our government can work for all, democracy reform must not only be a top priority but a first step. The For the People Act would be the most sweeping reform in a half century. Critically, it would reform campaign finance, expand voting access, end partisan gerrymandering, and uphold ethics. All these aspects of our system need repair. And it would address many of the problems we have seen in recent weeks.”
Neera Tanden, President and CEO, Center for American Progress:
“The need for sweeping anti-corruption and pro-voter reforms has never been more urgent than now, after the nation witnessed four years of rampant abuses that threaten the very fabric of our democracy. President-Elect Joe Biden, along with Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer, have listened to everyday Americans and made the For the People Act a top priority so that the government works for everyone – not just the wealthy and corporate interests. This historic legislation will enact anti-corruption reforms that will allow Americans to trust our government again, prevent voter suppression, and curb the wave of dark money that has an outsized influence on Congress. It’s time to address these abuses of power and prevent them from happening again.”
Virginia Kase, CEO, League of Women Voters:
“The 2020 elections saw the greatest voter participation in more than 100 years. We want to build on that momentum and make voting even more accessible to ensure our democracy is inclusive and represents all of the people it serves. The For the People Act will not only restore voting rights but end gerrymandering and build trust in our elections. This piece of legislation is ready to unite the country in our commitment to making democracy work.”
Ben Jealous, President, People For the American Way:
“Now that the election is won, the real work begins. Americans turned out to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris because we want our government back and we want our country back. Our communities of color in particular have been shortchanged for decades by a system that suppresses our votes and gives too much power to wealthy special interests. The For the People Act will help end voter suppression, get big money out of politics, crackdown on corruption, and stop the cycle of disenfranchisement and disempowerment of the people that has gone on for far too long. This legislation is about putting power back where it belongs, in the hands of the people, and we will work to make it a reality.”
Karen Hobert Flynn, President, Common Cause:
“American deserve free and fair elections, but this year voters faced unprecedented obstacles to keep them from voting. Voters were forced to overcome not just a global pandemic, but also a president who tried to suppress our right to vote by spreading disinformation, sabotaging the U.S. Postal Service to block vote-by-mail, and filing lawsuits nationwide to create barriers to voting. Nonetheless, we the people prevailed.
“If the For the People Act (H.R. 1) hadn’t been blocked by Sen. McConnell for more than 18 months, even more Americans could have safely voted this year. Common Cause and our 1.5 million members will continue fighting to pass the For the People Act (H.R. 1) because our voices matter and deserve to be heard in our democracy.”
Tiffany Muller, President, End Citizens United // Let America Vote Action Fund:
“President-elect Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress all believe our democracy works best when every voice is heard and every vote is counted. We look forward to working with them to prioritize and pass comprehensive reforms to end the dominance of big money in politics and secure and expand the right to vote, as a first priority of the next Congress.”
Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer, President, Democracy 21:
“By the end of the 2020 national elections, a staggering $14 billion had been spent on the elections, more than double the $6.5 billion spent in the 2016 presidential cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“This includes a record-breaking $2.6 billion in outside spending funded by massive contributions that have a powerful corrupting influence over government policies. On the other side were millions of ordinary Americans who made small, non-corrupting contributions – their donations, primarily made online, also set records in the 2020 election cycle. Small donors provided a total of $2.7 billion – or 22 percent of the contributions raised for the 2020 elections, according to the Center. So long as the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision is the law of the land, we cannot prevent outside groups from spending unlimited contributions in federal elections. But what we can do is dramatically increase the role and importance of small donations by enacting the small donor, public matching funds system contained in H.R. 1. This would provide federal candidates with the funds they need to run competitive races while being free from the grip of influence-seeking megadonors.
Amanda Ballantyne, Executive Director, Main Street Alliance:
“A strong small business economy can only happen if the government is released from the clutches of corporations and wealthy interests that pay top dollar, often anonymously, to influence elections and lobby officials, drowning out the voices of everyday voters. Regulatory agencies are being run by the corporations they are supposed to monitor. If Americans, and small business owners are going to see progress on the policy issues we care about, we must have a democracy that responds to the needs and priorities of voters – not wealthy donors or corporate interests. The reforms in the For the People Act (H.R. 1), coupled with the The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act (H.R. 4), will get big money out of politics, restore voting rights, and offer new protections for voters, end gerrymandering so that electoral districts are fairly drawn and hold government officials accountable with new ethics standards. This will help return power to the people and small business owners in their communities.”
Saumya Narechania, Campaign Manager, All On the Line:
“Passing HR1 is a critical opportunity to end gerrymandering at the congressional level and combat voter suppression tactics that are sadly very much still alive,” said. “All On The Line will train and provide tools for grassroots volunteers across the country to call on elected officials to pass HR1, as well as continue the fight for fair maps throughout the 2021 redistricting process,” continued Narechania.”
Jason Miller, Director of Campaigns and Development, Franciscan Action Network:
As Franciscans, our Christian faith teaches us that we must recognize each person as a gift from God, and that we must emphasize the importance of the essential humanity and dignity of each person. And, as Pope Francis calls us to “meddle in politics” we interpret this concept as a requirement that all Americans must have an equal say in the public square. With that call in mind, the Franciscan Action Network calls on the Biden administration to make democracy reform a top priority of his administration. We know that in order to advocate on our other core issues of justice, peace, and integrity of creation, we must first fix our democracy.–
Chiraag Bains, Director of Legal Strategies, Demos:
“Black and brown voters once again went to heroic lengths to make their voices heard in this election. They did so despite the major structural problems with our democracy that continue to obstruct full and equal participation. Demos applauds Speaker Pelosi and the House Democracy Reform Task Force for prioritizing the creation of an inclusive democracy in the new Congress. HR1 is a profound structural reform package that will remove hurdles for Black and brown voters and democratize and diversify the base of political donors that determines who runs for office and who wins elections in the U.S.”
Wendy Fields, Executive Director, Democracy Initiative:
“We’ve just seen the largest, most inclusive election in U.S. history. Record voter turnout didn’t happen by accident. It happened because the democracy movement — powered by citizens in state after state — demanded and won voter-friendly reforms like same day registration, online registration, early voting and no-excuse voting by mail.
“Voting is too important to be restricted to a limited hours on a single Tuesday in November. We’ll keep up the fight to defeat voter suppression and expand access to the ballot in the states — and in the U.S. Congress, where we need a new Voting Rights Act, ethics reform and legislation to reduce the influence of big money in politics – bills like HR 4 and HR 1. When more people participate, democracy wins.”
Ann Toback, CEO, The Workers Circle:
Restoring voting rights and expanding voter protections is at the heart of HR1’s democracy reforms and a critical part of ending systemic racism. New forms of voter suppression, like Voter ID, have disenfranchised voters of color by design. Unwarranted voter purges under the guise of updating voter registries, have silenced the voices of millions. These sinister practices have undermined our democracy. We can and must repair this harm through the passage of the For The People Act.
Our organization was founded by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe whose commitment to democratic participation in the workplace and beyond and their collective activism gave birth to the modern labor movement. We draw upon their fierce activist legacy today as we stand with our fellow members in the Declaration for American Democracy to ensure our government is truly of, by, and for the people.
Sr. Quincy Howard, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of voters, election officials, poll workers, and civic volunteers, the 2020 election was an unrivaled success with historic turn-out, even in the midst of a deadly pandemic. But the process itself did not reflect a faithful democracy. Inaction by gerrymandered state legislatures and the US Senate meant that voters had to choose between their health and their vote. Dark money and special interest donations poured in to influence voters, doubling the record levels seen in 2016. Voter suppression tactics were seen at the highest levels when the President himself tried to undermine faith in our democratic systems. Despite all the barriers, voters proved that our democracy can still deliver. We cannot take that for granted in the next election—Pres. Biden must prioritize the For the People Act early in the 117th Congress just as Speaker Pelosi has committed to do. These democracy reforms must lay the critical foundation for rebuilding our nation. Restoring trust in a government that is accountable to the people is the first step towards healing our nation.”
What does the For the People Act (H.R. 1) do?
The For the People Act (H.R. 1) is the boldest democracy reform since Watergate.
It’s a massive overhaul of voting, money-in-politics, and ethics laws — all to make our democracy more inclusive.
Gets big money out of politics.
The For the People Act (H.R. 1):
- counters the Citizens United decision
- establishes a voluntary small donor public financing system for House races
- enacts the DISCLOSE Act
- reveals who's funding dark money groups
- strengthens the prohibition on campaign spending by foreign nationals
- enacts the Honest Ads Act
- reveals who's buying online political ads
- enacts the Stand By Every Ad Act
- requires political ad buyers to reveal their top donors and chief officials
- mandates greater transparency from tax-exempt organizations
- requires publicly traded companies to consult with shareholders before spending on politics
- leads to disclosure of contributions by government contractors
- holds presidential inaugural committees accountable
- pilots a voucher program, so voters can contribute to candidates of their choice
- establishes a small donor matching system for Congressional elections
- reforms the presidential public financing program
- empowers more people to run by allowing federal candidates who are not incumbents to use part of their campaign funds for childcare and certain other expenses
- encourages small dollar donations to political party committees
- overhauls the FEC
- cracks down on Super PAC-Candidate coordination
- requires disposal of unused campaign funds
Makes voting simpler, safer, and fairer.
The For the People Act (H.R. 1):
- commits to restore and update the full protections of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) — the most effective civil rights legislation in the history of the United States
- commits to protect and promote Native American voting rights
- ensures access to voting for individuals with disabilities
- supports DC statehood
- supports federal voting rights for Americans living in US territories
- enacts the Redistricting Reform Act of 2019
- bans partisan and racial gerrymandering
- adopts independent redistricting commissions
- combats cyberattacks, election hacking, and disinformation campaigns
- promotes online voter registration in federal elections nationwide
- requires automatic voter registration for federal elections nationwide
- allows same day registration for federal elections nationwide
- prevents voter roll purges
- makes registration deadlines line up with public holidays
- requires USPS to remind movers to update their voter registration
- creates grants to boost youth involvement in election activities
- provide additional state funding to update registration processes
- prohibits interference with voter registration
- standardizes voter registrations across states
- expands pre-registration for future voters currently 16 or older
- prohibits voter caging
- enacts the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act
- restores federal voting rights to those disenfranchised by a prior criminal conviction
- adopt paper ballots
- strengthen provisional balloting
- create a nationwide standard for early voting
- expand opportunities to vote by mail
- protect voting rights for absent military and overseas voters
- provides grants for more poll workers
- enhances enforcement of existing standards
- prevents conflicts of interest with chief state election officials
- allows public universities to become voter registration agencies
- lets students vote where they attend school
- requires a weeks' notice to change polling places
- allows a sworn statement option for voter ID requirements
- makes absentee ballots postage-free
- helps states process absentee ballots
- strengthens voter information support
- standardizes polling place hours of operation
- improves the Election Assistance Commission
- funds election security upgrades
- increases communication about threats to state election systems
Holds public officials accountable.
The For the People Act (H.R. 1):
- requires sitting presidents, vice presidents, and major-party candidates for those offices to disclose their tax returns
- requires a code of ethics for the United States Supreme Court
- updates and enforces the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)
- increases federal lobbying disclosure requirements
- requires presidential appointees to recuse themselves from government matters to which the president or their spouse is a party
- ensures easy public access to lobbying information
- requires the president and vice president to divest from any personal financial holdings that could pose a conflict of interest with their official duties
- demands transparency for White House ethics waivers
- strengthen ethics enforcement in the executive branch
- requires more disclosure of political donations and fundraising by cabinet members and other senior appointees
- makes presidents-elect adopt and enforce ethics rules for their transition teams
- requires all senior executive branch appointees to take an ethics pledge
- restricts travel on private aircraft by cabinet members and other senior appointees
- makes Members of Congress pay any awards or settlements in connection to claims of workplace harassment
- prohibits House members from serving on the boards of for-profit companies
- bars Members of Congress and staff from trying to make laws to make themselves rich
- requires candidates to disclose if they get donations from registered lobbyists
- creates a searchable, public online portal for all reports to Congress
- requires reporting of outside compensation for congressional staff
What is the Declaration for American Democracy?
A Coalition of 200+ Member Organizations
Our coalition includes groups from the labor, racial justice, faith, women’s rights, environmental, good government, and many other important communities. Formed in 2018, we set out on a mission to take back our democracy and restore power to the people. We believe that we must build a democracy where everyone participates, every vote is counted, and everyone’s voice is heard.
To learn more about how democracy reform is critical to achieving progress on the issues voters care about most, read our report: Fixing Our Broken Democracy.
Together we must build a democracy where everyone participates, every vote is counted, voting rights are fully enforced, and everyone’s voice is heard. We deserve to have a say in decisions that affect our lives, and to be fairly represented by elected officials who are responsive to our needs in order to make our lives better.
Today our system is in crisis. Powerful corporate and wealthy interests regularly defy the foundational principles of fairness, equity, ethics, accountability, and respect for the rule of law, and we are heading towards an impending constitutional catastrophe. Some states are passing laws that make it harder for voters, particularly minority voters, to gain access to the ballot. Long-standing voluntary standards that created a framework for some executive branch accountability are no longer enough to forestall corruption, and our current system of laws is inadequate. It is with a backdrop of Congressional paralysis and increasing contempt for democratic values that we reaffirm the need for real momentous democracy reform.
We know that from calamity, opportunities arise – as does the chance to collectively build the democracy we demand and deserve.
The Declaration for American Democracy has formed with a commitment to create and pass a series of fundamental reforms to rebalance our moneyed political system, empower everyday Americans, ensure equal justice for all, protect the public’s right to know, reduce barriers to participation in our elections, vigorously enforce voting laws, and fix our ethics laws. We will not be satisfied with any single reform, and will continue to press for the structural changes necessary to rebalance power for people. We will not accept anything less than a strong democratic system that reflects, responds to, and represents us.
Our democracy is in crisis. Each day brings more news of corruption, voter suppression, and shocking lawlessness at the highest levels of our government. Basic transparency and routine oversight are stymied at every turn. Corporations and wealthy interests pay top dollar, often anonymously, to influence elections and lobby officials, drowning out the voices of everyday voters. Instead of taking steps to secure our elections, the President of the United States is inviting – demanding, even – that foreign governments interfere in the 2020 election. Americans are feeling, with good reason, that our democracy is broken.
But there is hope for change.
In March 2019, the Declaration For American Democracy worked collectively to help ensure the U.S. House passed the groundbreaking reforms in the For the People Act (H.R.1), and introduced the Senate Companion S.949, with every single Democrat signed on.
The For the People Act contains three main pillars:
- Ensuring all Americans can have their voices heard by reforming our voting and election laws by strengthening election security, ending partisan gerrymandering, and enacting automatic voter registration;
- Getting big money out of politics by creating a new small-donor matching funds system for federal candidates, requiring super PACs and “dark money” political organizations to make their donors public, and strengthening oversight rules to ensure those who break our campaign finance laws are held accountable; and
- Ending corruption and holding public officials accountable by expanding conflict-of-interest laws, banning members of Congress from serving on corporate boards, and requiring major party presidential candidates to publicly disclose their tax returns.
The Declaration for American Democracy also contributed to the fight to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R.4) through the House in December 2019. The Voting Rights Advancement Act seeks to restore critical provisions of the Voting Rights Act (1965), which was gutted in the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. For decades these provisions had protected voters in states with histories of pernicious voting discrimination. This decision gave state lawmakers license to suppress the vote of communities of color without significant risk of legal challenges