In The News

March 3, 2021

For years, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) had an ongoing experiment: testing his campaign-finance legislation on his own reelection races. He would set aside hundreds of thousands in high-dollar donations and would not touch it, not until he had raised at least $1,000 in small-dollar contributions from 100 different precincts in his district. Cold-calling donors on Election Day in 2014, he told one skeptical constituent: “In a sense, I’m calling from the future. I’m calling from a time when candidates will have an incentive to reach out to the small donors of the world.” On Wednesday, the House will consider whether to make that world a reality. The public campaign-financing system Sarbanes envisions will go up for a vote as part of a sweeping campaign-finance and voting-access package he’s worked on for the better part of 15 years.... House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Sarbanes the “godfather” of the legislation in a speech on the House floor Tuesday, crediting his “long-term dedication” to advancing democracy. The bill — H.R. 1, the For the People Act — seeks to drastically broaden access to the ballot at a time when GOP state lawmakers are trying to advance more voting restrictions. It would expand early, absentee and mail-in voting, while also enabling automatic voter registration and trying to end partisan gerrymandering. And it seeks to amplify the power of grass-roots donors to counter the influence of big money in politics, through a small-dollar donor matching system. “The stakes could not be higher,” said Sarbanes, a Baltimore native who chairs the Democrats’ Democracy Reform Task Force and is the son of the late Sen. Paul Sarbanes. A similar version of the bill was approved by the Democratic-majority House in 2019, but died in the Republican-controlled Senate.... “We’ve never needed it more than we needed it in this moment, when you look at what’s happening across the country,” Sarbanes said, citing Republican attempts to restrict voting access as well as President Donald Trump’s effort to sow distrust in the U.S. electoral system leading up to the Capitol attack. “We’ve got a piece of legislation that can stop that voter suppression effort in its tracks, broadly expand people’s access to the ballot box . . . and push back against this undue influence that big money has on our politics and the way we govern in America,” Sarbanes said. Under the campaign-finance overhaul included in H.R. 1, candidates would be able to opt into a six-to-one matching system for small-dollar donations. Just like in Sarbanes’s experiment, they would only qualify to unlock the funds if they raise $50,000 from at least 1,000 small-dollar donors first, and agree not to take certain PAC money. The matching funds would be sourced not from taxpayers — as Republican critics have frequently and incorrectly asserted — but from civil settlements or criminal fees the federal government wins against corporate wrongdoers or major tax evaders. In the future Sarbanes envisions, a $50 donation from a donor of modest means would be worth $350 to the candidate.... “I think maybe the future is now,” he said Tuesday. “We’ve reached the point where if we can get a system like this in place, all the incentives can shift, and you’ll see candidates that will finally reach out and build those bridges and connections to everyday Americans who maybe don’t have a ton of money, but they can give something, and they want their voice to be heard.”

March 2, 2021

The turbulent debate over the nation’s elections reached Congress’s doorstep this week, with House Democrats poised to pass sweeping nationwide standards for voter access Wednesday just as Republican lawmakers in dozens of states move to restrict polling access after Donald Trump’s November loss.Meanwhile, state lawmakers are barreling ahead with major rollbacks of early voting, mail voting and other state provisions that Trump and other Republicans oppose, while the Supreme Court on Tuesday heard a challenge to Arizona’s election laws that could further curtail the federal government’s power to police elections.... House leaders anticipate near-unanimous Democratic support — and zero Republican backing — for their bill known as H.R. 1, or the “For the People Act,” that would overhaul elections, campaign finance and government ethics law. Some liberal lawmakers are pushing to ditch Senate filibuster rules to pass it into law without Republican support.... The Democrats’ legislative answer to the Republican effort is a sprawling 791-page bill that establishes national standards for voter access — mandating online registration, voting by mail, at least 15 days of early voting and the restoration of voting rights for released felons. The bill also mandates congressional redistricting be done by independent commissions, requires the disclosure of “dark money” contributions to political groups, and creates a system of public financing for congressional campaigns, among dozens of other provisions.... Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), H.R. 1’s lead author, said Democrats should feel a sense of urgency to bust through any roadblocks given the scale of the Republican effort to curtail voting rights ahead of the 2022 midterms — for which the GOP is also counting on a partisan redistricting effort for an additional House advantage. “It’s important to keep this moving,” he said. “Republicans are absolutely determined to throw as many obstacles up as they possibly can, and exhibit A is Georgia, exhibit B is Pennsylvania, exhibit C is Arizona. And the list goes on and on from there, so the stakes could not be higher.”

March 2, 2021

John Sarbanes did not go to Congress to write a bill that could be the biggest overhaul of the U.S. election law in decades. The Maryland Democrat, whose 3rd District stretches from Annapolis to Towson, has focused much of his time in Congress on issues he cares about like climate change, gun violence and fair taxes. But the work was often affected by lobbyists and political action committees. “From the first moment I arrived here in Washington almost 15 years ago now, it became clear to me that the influence of money on how Washington works was a problem,” Sarbanes said. “And it was blocking progress on a lot of the issues I care about.” Sarbanes said he wanted to get to the root of the lobbyist problem he saw. The result is H.R. 1, also known as “The For the People Bill.” The 791-page bill focuses on campaign finance and election reform. It would touch virtually every aspect of the electoral process — striking down hurdles to voting erected in the name of election security, curbing partisan gerrymandering and curtailing the influence of big money in politics. Congress begins debate on the measure this week. Every Democrat in the House has signed on as a co-sponsor, and this week President Joe Biden’s administration announced its support.

March 1, 2021

On February 23rd, 2021, Alyssa Milano hosted a special live episode of Sorry Not Sorry with Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District. He’s the lead sponsor of H.R. 1, the “for the people act.” This act corrects so many critical shortcomings and vulnerabilities in our election system, and is one of the most important pieces of legislation in the Congress in a very long time. This is a rebroadcast of that live episode.

Podcast Media Player

February 26, 2021

Stacey Abrams, whose voting rights work helped make Georgia into a swing state, exhorted Congress on Thursday to reject “outright lies” that have historically restricted access to the ballot as Democrats began their push for a sweeping overhaul of election and ethics laws. “A lie cloaked in the seductive appeal of election integrity has weakened access to democracy for millions,” Abrams, a Democrat who narrowly lost Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial race, said during a committee hearing for the bill, which was introduced as H.R. 1 to signal its importance to the party’s agenda. Democrats feel a sense of urgency to enact the legislation ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when their narrow majorities in the House and Senate will be at risk. The bill, which good-government groups have championed, is advancing against a backdrop of Republican-controlled states seizing on former President Donald Trump’s false claims about a stolen 2020 election to push legislation that would make it more difficult to vote. Democrats argue that voters of color, a key constituency for the party, would be disproportionately affected. It also comes on the cusp of a once-in-a-decade redrawing of congressional districts, a highly partisan affair that is typically controlled by state legislatures. With Republicans controlling the majority of statehouse, the process alone could help the GOP win enough seats to recapture the House. The Democratic bill would instead require that the boundaries be drawn by independent commissions.... Given the closing window to pass legislation before 2022, many in the party remain hopeful it will be signed into law by Biden, whose administration has said the bill is a priority. “We may not get the opportunity to make this change again for many, many decades, so let’s not miss that window,” said John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who is the bill’s lead sponsor. “Shame on us if we don’t get this done.”

February 25, 2021

The reintroduction of a sweeping election reform bill has earned the criticism of Republican lawmakers, but a new survey found that a majority of their party's voters support the legislation. In fact, the Data for Progress poll found H.R. 1—also known as the For the People Act—has broad public support. More than two-thirds of likely voters (68 percent) said they would back the proposal. Just 16 percent said they opposed it. The support also transcended party lines, with 70 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independent or third-party voters and 57 percent of Republican voters expressing approval for the bill....  "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," Representative John Sarbanes (D-Md.) said in a statement. Sarbanes, the chair of the House's Democracy Reform Task Force, reintroduced the bill in the 117th Congress. "It shouldn't have to be this way," he said.

February 25, 2021

Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, the lead sponsor of the bill, said he doesn’t expect much, if any, GOP support. Even with the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, Sarbanes said Democratic control of the chamber means it’ll get a hearing and, likely, a vote — both of which could put pressure on Republicans to support the bill, or on Democrats to roll back the filibuster rules. “The Senate’s rules are the Senate’s rules,” he said. “My view is, with reform that’s this important, this critical for so many Americans, that if there’s a will, there’s a way.” He said he hopes House passage will apply momentum to its Senate companion.

February 24, 2021

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) led a coalition of 21 attorneys general in support of a federal election reform Tuesday. In a letter to congressional leadership, Frosh and his fellow attorneys general urged the passage of the “For the People Act” being spearheaded by Rep. John D. Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Sen. Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Or.). That proposal aims to make voting more accessible and crack down on gerrymandering. “America faces a stark choice — whether to pursue the reforms necessary to make this country a functional multiracial democracy, or to accept the systemic and accelerating disenfranchisement of Black and other minority voters,” the letter reads. Sarbanes’ bill includes a slew of election reforms, such as requiring states to offer same-day registration and requiring at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections. It would also include reforms aimed at transparency, including to require presidential candidates to publicly disclose their tax-returns…. Sarbanes previously said the 2020 elections should serve as an example of why such reform is needed.

February 23, 2021

House Democrats are preparing to pass sweeping legislation to revamp election and campaign finance rules next week on a party-line vote that portends an uphill battle in the Senate, where it faces stiff Republican opposition. Supporters of the bill (H.R. 1) announced Monday that all 221 House Democrats signed on to the nearly 800-page measure that would ease voting rules and strengthen restrictions on money in politics, including provisions on guaranteeing voting by mail, public campaign funding, and automatic voter registration.... Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the lead sponsor and coordinator of action on the Democratic bill, pointed specifically to Republican state legislatures across the country advancing “a record number of voter suppression schemes in a blatant attempt to silence the voices of Americans — especially in communities of color — and block people from voting in our elections.” In an emailed comment, Sarbanes said congressional Democrats “remain united and committed in our effort to swiftly pass H.R. 1 and prevent these insidious, Republican-led efforts from taking effect.”

February 23, 2021

House Democrats are preparing to pass sweeping legislation to revamp election and campaign finance rules next week on a party-line vote that portends an uphill battle in the Senate, where it faces stiff Republican opposition. Supporters of the bill (H.R. 1) announced Monday that all 221 House Democrats signed on to the nearly 800-page measure that would ease voting rules and strengthen restrictions on money in politics, including provisions on guaranteeing voting by mail, public campaign funding, and automatic voter registration.... House Democrats say they want to pass a bill in time for the 2022 elections, when the party will defend narrow majorities in both chambers. But even if it falls short in the Senate, the effort could help reinforce voting rights and anti-corruption messages they believe resonate with their base voters. It could also help counter Republican efforts at the state level to restrict certain voting procedures, such as mail-in ballots. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the lead sponsor and coordinator of action on the Democratic bill, pointed specifically to Republican state legislatures across the country advancing “a record number of voter suppression schemes in a blatant attempt to silence the voices of Americans — especially in communities of color — and block people from voting in our elections.” In an emailed comment, Sarbanes said congressional Democrats “remain united and committed in our effort to swiftly pass H.R. 1 and prevent these insidious, Republican-led efforts from taking effect.”

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