Restoring the Promise of American Democracy

January 9, 2019

Dear Friend,

Throughout my time in Congress, one consistent theme I’ve heard from Marylanders is that our democratic institutions have lost their footing and are increasingly unresponsive to the needs of most Americans. People are rightly fed up with Washington, which has been captured by special interests and where lawmaking has become an insider’s game.

People are desperate to reclaim their democracy. That’s why it was so gratifying to lead the new House Democratic majority in unveiling and introducing H.R. 1, the For the People Act – a bold and transformative reform bill that will return power to the people by making it easier, not harder, to vote; breaking the grip of big money on our politics; and strengthening ethics laws so that the public officials serve the public, not themselves.

Congressman Sarbanes joined House Democrats to Introduce H.R. 1, the For the People Act.

Here’s a quick overview of the bill, which makes reforms across three key areas.

  1. Voting Rights
  • Improve Access – H.R. 1 expands access to the ballot box by taking aim at institutional barriers to voting, such as cumbersome registration systems, limited voting hours and many other roadblocks. H.R. 1 creates automatic voter registration across the country, ensures that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full rights restored, expands voting by mail and early voting and modernizes the U.S. voting system.
  • Promote Integrity – H.R. 1 fights back against the conservative assault on voting rights by committing Congress to build the record necessary to restore the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting voter roll purges like those seen in Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere and ensuring that discriminatory voter ID laws do not prevent Americans citizens from exercising their rights. H.R. 1 also ends partisan gerrymandering to prevent politicians from picking their voters and making Americans feel like their voices do not count.
  • Ensure Security – H.R. 1 ensures that American elections are decided by American voters without interference by foreign adversaries. The bill enhances federal support for voting system security, particularly paper ballots, and increases oversight over election vendors.
  1. Campaign Finance
  • Guarantee Disclosure – H.R. 1 shines a light on dark money in politics by requiring any organization involved in political activity to disclose its large donors, which will break the nesting-doll system that allows big-money contributors and special interests to hide their spending in networks of so-called “social welfare” organizations.
  • Empower Citizens – H.R. 1 levels the political playing field for everyday Americans, creating a multiple matching system for small donations and allowing the American people to exercise their due influence in a post-Citizens United world, while reaffirming that Congress should have the authority to regulate money in politics. The new system of citizen-owned elections will break special interests’ stranglehold on Congress and lay the groundwork for an agenda that serves the American people.
  • Strengthen Oversight – H.R. 1 ensures that there are cops on the campaign finance beat that will enforce the laws already on the books. H.R. 1 tightens rules on super PACs and restructures the Federal Election Commission to break the gridlock and enhance its enforcement mechanisms. It also repeals Mitch McConnell’s riders that prevent government agencies from requiring disclosure of political spending.
  1. Ethics and Accountability
  • Fortify Ethics Law – H.R. 1 breaks the influence economy in Washington and increases accountability by expanding conflict of interest law and divestment requirements, slowing the revolving door, preventing Members of Congress from serving on corporate boards and requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.
  • Impose Greater Ethics Enforcement – H.R. 1 gives teeth to federal ethics oversight by overhauling the Office of Government Ethics, closing registration loopholes for lobbyists and foreign agents, ensuring watchdogs have sufficient resources to enforce the law and creating a code of ethics for the Supreme Court.

These are not reforms for reform’s sake. They are carefully designed to unrig the system so everyday citizens can set the agenda in Washington and make progress on the issues that matter most, whether it’s lowering prescription drugs prices, building a fairer economy, reducing gun violence or combating climate change.

H.R. 1, the For the People Act, will clean up the culture of corruption in Washington and return us to a government of, by and for the people.


Congressman John Sarbanes
Maryland’s Third Congressional District