By Robert Weissman
Our democracy is in a double crisis.
We face the immediate threat posed every day by Donald Trump, with his combination of unprecedented corruption, disdain for the rule of law and autocratic governance.
We also face the deeper rooted problems of Big Money dominance of our elections, shocking voter suppression, extreme gerrymandering and outrageous corporate influence over the policymaking process.
After the 2018 election, we have the chance to do something about this double crisis — the opportunity, and the imperative, of winning fundamental reform.
Reform not just to counter Trump’s threats, but to fix the profound, underlying problems with our democracy.
Over the past decade, Public Citizen has helped build an ever-expanding grassroots movement to rescue our democracy from the iron grip of Big Money.
Thanks to that movement, congressional leaders are on course to make HR 1 — the first legislation considered by the new U.S. House of Representatives — a sweeping pro-democracy and anti-corruption package.
This will be the most consequential pro-democracy legislation of the past 50 years.
We will make this sweeping democracy reform bill as strong as it should be, win its passage in the House and then turn it into actual law only if we organize and mobilize like never before.
That’s what we are going to do.
Over the next two months, you are going to hear a lot from Public Citizen about this effort.
Here’s an overview of what HR 1 entails:
Driving Big Money Out of Politics
A handful of superrich people are shaping our elections.
Candidates spend their time begging for cash from the wealthy, and legislate to fulfill their desires — which are dramatically different than the wants and needs of regular people.
The superrich don’t just have an outsized influence over who wins, they also influence what gets discussed in campaigns and what legislative ideas receive serious consideration.
If we do our jobs, HR 1 will replace the current, corrupt campaign finance system with one that relies on small donors and public matching funds.
It will end dark money by forcing disclosure of all election-related spending, and it will call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision.
Protecting the Right to Vote
Empowered by a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act, state Republicans have adopted a wide range of schemes to keep people of color, and young people, from voting.
And Trump, of course, has done everything in his power to encourage, enable and expand these voter suppression efforts.
Altogether, these efforts are keeping hundreds of thousands — and probably millions — of Americans from the polls.
It is sickening that such things can happen in 21st century America.
If we do our jobs, HR 1 will protect the sacred right to vote by restoring the Voting Rights Act and enacting Automatic Voter Registration.
Voters Get to Decide
Gerrymandering has become the science of subverting democracy — fostering a rigged system in which politicians hand-pick their electorate.
Armed with sophisticated computer programs, state officials are drawing congressional districts (as well as those for state house) with mathematical precision to advance whatever party is in power in the state.
Both parties are guilty of severe gerrymandering, but Republicans took advantage of their 2010 sweep of state elections to draw districts wildly in their favor.
Ohio, for example, is a closely divided state politically. Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by three percentage points in 2012 and Donald Trump prevailed over Hillary Clinton by eight points. But thanks to gerrymandering, the congressional delegation consists of 12 Republicans and only four Democrats.
If we do our jobs, HR 1 will establish that districts must be based on transparent factors rather than partisan self-interest.
Trump is a walking, talking violation of basic standards of ethics and morality.
Did you know that he intervened in the decision about where the FBI headquarters should be based, out of fear that the old FBI building location might be acquired by a hotel that would compete with his Washington, D.C., hotel?
But it’s not just Trump himself.
His administration has enabled a total corporate takeover of our government, with former corporate lobbyists, lawyers and executives in charge of agencies overseeing the industries for which they previously worked (and likely will again).
If we do our jobs, HR 1 will force the president to reveal his tax returns and sell off his business interests.
It will slam shut the revolving door through which lobbyists go into government.
It will codify the independent congressional ethics office to bring transparency and accountability to members of Congress and create a Supreme Court code of ethics.
And much more.
I want to be very honest with you.
Winning passage in the House is not going to turn this bill into law.
We have to get it through the House, yes, but to make HR 1 law we have to get it through the Senate and signed by the president.
To put it modestly, that is not likely in the next two years.
But what we do now — right now — will determine whether we are poised to turn this sweeping reform into law when Trump is gone.
That’s why it’s so important that we get to work right now.
There’s no mystery about how to address our nation’s most pressing needs.
We know how to provide health care for everyone.
We know how to guarantee everyone a living wage.
We know how to forestall catastrophic climate change.
We know how to reduce Wall Street’s power to keep our economy secure.
We know how to protect consumers and workers.
Our problem is not a lack of solutions.
Our problem is that Big Business blocks those solutions, thanks to a rigged political system.
If we can tackle that problem, we can go a long way to deliver on the promise of America.
Let’s get to work.Φ
Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen. This letter was sent on November 19.