In The News
President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee spent more than $1.5 million at the Trump International Hotel in Washington ahead of his 2017 swearing-in, according to internal documents reviewed by ABC News…. Compared to past inaugurations, the festivities surrounding Trump’s swearing-in were modest in scale – the non-profit group established to oversee the celebration hosted only three major events. But the amount of money involved was record-breaking – with more than $107 million raised and $104 million spent, double the amounts of President Barack Obama’s first inaugural…. "These inaugural committees if there’s not good transparency and disclosure, can turn into slush funds,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, who has served on the House Oversight Committee. “That’s why you need to have requirements that they disclose what the spending is, where it’s coming from, put some limits on the kind of spending that’s appropriate, so that it’s really going towards inaugural needs, and not other purposes."
As we begin to debate the House Democrats’ landmark “For the People Act” (HR 1), here’s one pushback we might expect to see: The small-donor public matching system in the bill costs too much public money. It’s a standard argument that campaign finance reform opponents often make. But it only focuses only on the costs. It doesn’t take into account the benefits. A publicly funded campaign finance system will save taxpayers far more money than it costs them. It will pay for itself in more responsive and smarter public policy. As a simple comparison, let’s put the current Congress’s HR 1 up against that of the last Congress — Republicans’ massive tax bill. By most estimates, the tax bill’s 10-year cost will be $1.5 trillion (that’s trillion with a T). Some estimates put it closer to the $2 trillion mark, or even $2.3 trillion. And why so expensive? Well, the bill gave massive benefits to corporate executives and the very rich. As Republican Rep. Chris Collins said about the tax reform bill, “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’” By one estimate, tax lobbyists donated $9.7 million in 2017. The tax bill was full of big and small wins for corporate lobbyists. This raises an obvious question: If Republican lawmakers hadn’t been so eager to please their big donors, would they have put together a different bill? Perhaps if they had been raising money from small donors in their districts, instead of raising money from lobbyists at Washington fundraisers and listening to very rich people complain about taxes being too high, their tax bill might actually have given most of the benefits to the middle class. Who knows?
The Democrats’ first order of business as they took control of the 116th Congress was introducing H.R. 1, the colossal “For the People Act.” This 571-page behemoth of a bill covering voting rights, campaign finance reform, ethics improvements, and more was a perfect reminder of just how much power the Constitution gives Congress to make elections better in this country and, sadly, of how partisan the question of election reform has become…. There’s a lot packed into the introductory version of the bill, much of it a wish list for voting rights advocates and election reformers. The summary put out by the office of Rep. John Sarbanes, one of the lead proponents of the bill, goes on for 22 pages. Among the provisions affecting voting and voting rights are those requiring online voter registration, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration for voting in federal elections; a requirement to use independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional districts in each state; limitations on voter purges; an end to felon disenfranchisement for federal elections; protection against intimidation and false information surrounding elections; improved access to voting by persons with disabilities; a set of improved cybersecurity standards around voting and voting systems, including a requirement that all voting systems produce a paper trail for auditing and checking results; and a ban on a state’s chief election officer engaging in political activities connected to federal offices.
A sweeping reform bill that House Democrats say will be their first priority after ending the partial government shutdown is filled with policies that would fundamentally alter the nation’s voting and campaign finance systems. These policies are not coming out of nowhere. Most of them have been implemented and tested in cities and states across the country. “Within the last five or six years, you just got more and more of these solutions happening at the state and local level,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the bill’s chief sponsor. “It’s not a unicorn. It’s not like we’re talking about something that exists in the atmosphere of Jupiter. This is happening in America.” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, in a famous dissenting opinion from 1932, asserted the freedom of a state or local government to “serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” This “laboratories of democracy” concept holds that state and local governments are the proper place to test policies before they move to the national stage. That is exactly what has happened with the sweeping policies in Democrats’ H.R. 1, which they’re calling the For the People Act. The bill’s campaign finance provisions on public election financing, dark money disclosure and democracy vouchers have all been field tested. The same is true of automatic voter registration, felon re-enfranchisement and the use of independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions.
Eight House Democrats who represent the capital region, home to the biggest concentration of federal workers, denounced the shutdown on Wednesday and slammed President Trump. During a news conference outside the Capitol, several members said their offices are being flooded with calls, emails and letters from constituents panicking about how they will pay their bills. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (Va.) said one furloughed worker told her they had to return Christmas presents they could no longer afford. Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.) said a couple he represents will withdraw money from their retirement and kids’ college funds prematurely — paying a penalty — to cover basic needs. Rep. Don Beyer (Va.) said he represents a disabled veteran who owns a small business dependent on government contractors and may have to lay off employees. Each member ridiculed Trump’s desire to build a border wall to curb what he describes as a “crisis.” … Beyer, Connolly, Raskin and Wexton were joined by Maryland Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, John Sarbanes and David Trone, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Politicians and furloughed federal workers came out to protest the government shutdown at the Silver Spring Civic Center on Wednesday night. The event was lead by Rep. Jamie Raskin, who started the rally with a chant: “All for one, one for all, stop the shutdown, stop the wall.” In addition to Raskin, the rally featured other prominent democrats speaking out against the shutdown, including U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; and U.S. Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and John Sarbanes, D-Md. J.David Cox, the president of American Federation of Government Employees also addressed the crowd, saying President Donald Trump was holding workers “hostage” with the government shutdown.
Federal workers are flooding congressional offices with concerned calls about how they’ll pay their bills, and lawmakers who represent them in the D.C. area vowed Wednesday to do all they can to help end the partial government shutdown. Calling the shutdown “stupid, uncalled for, unnecessary,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House will pass four spending bills this week aimed at opening up federal agencies that have remained closed during the shutdown…. Others who spoke at the news conference on Wednesday included: John Sarbanes, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s 3rd District; David Trone, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s 6th District; and Jamie Raskin, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 8th District. Union representatives of federal workers also urged the president and congressional leaders to reopen the government.
Maryland Democrats assembled outside the U.S. Capitol Wednesday with their colleagues from Virginia and D.C., and with union leaders who represent federal workers. The lawmakers accused Trump of hurting employees as the political standoff continues…. Hoyer and four other Maryland lawmakers are co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would give back pay to impacted employees. The legislation’s Maryland backers also include Democratic Reps. Jamie Raskin, Anthony G. Brown, David J. Trone and John Sarbanes. Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen are co-sponsoring similar bipartisan legislation in the Senate. Sarbanes on Wednesday accused Trump of holding federal workers “hostage” in order to secure funding for a massive border wall. “We need a leader; we don’t need a demagogue in the White House. We need a president, we don’t need a grandstander,” he added. Sarbanes pledged to the federal workers “toughing it out” at home: “We’re going to make sure you get your back pay, we’re going to make sure that you’re respected. That is our mission here as your representatives.”
hroughout my time in Congress, I have enjoyed sitting down on a regular basis with the Capital Gazette editorial board to discuss a wide variety of issues that matter to residents of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.... One consistent theme is that our democratic institutions have lost their footing and are increasingly unresponsive to the needs of average Americans, that Washington has been captured by special interests and lawmaking has become an insider’s game.... People are desperate to reclaim their democracy. So it was gratifying on the first day of the 116th Congress to lead the new 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.
The new Democratic majority has robust plans for action after regaining power, including a “good government” reform package that was spearheaded by Maryland Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D). The package includes a series of changes to strengthen voting rights, set ethical standards for lawmakers and reform the campaign finance system to undo the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that led to unlimited and largely untraceable spending on political elections. “To do that right out of the gate as H.R. 1, I think sends a powerful message that Democrats have heard these complaints and we want to do something serious about it and that when you give the Democrats the gavel this is the kind of reform and change that you can expect to see,” Sarbanes said during an interview with Maryland Matters in his own new office on Thursday.