A new congressional bill seeks to grant Democrats the power to overhaul state election processes and impose new regulations on political advertisements and donors, granting Congress “ultimate supervisory power over federal elections.”
Democrats introduced the new 800-page “For The People Act of 2021” in early January with the hopes that their control in the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate would allow for swift passage of the bill. The legislation is packaged as an anti-corruption reform bill, marketed by its sponsors, corporate media outlets, and other activist institutions as a way to “expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants.”
Some of the measures in the bill, however, include eliminating the opportunity for states to protect themselves against the modifications weaponized in the 2020 election, such as preventing restrictions on vote-by-mail and imposing voter ID laws. Those measures also give the federal government control over political speech online by expanding the definition of electioneering communications and expose political and nonprofit donors’ information to the public in connection to the causes they support.
Critics of the legislation are cautioning against the bill’s attempts to overhaul election processes, saying it hurts Americans’ trust in the voting systems created by their states and infringes on their privacy as political donors.
One month after Democrat Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland introduced the bill, a group of nine former Federal Elections Commission officials wrote a letter to congressional leadership urging them to consider the ramifications of the potential law on the bipartisan elections agency, including removing a member from the six-person body to gain “partisan control.”
“Proponents claim this radical change is necessary to prevent ‘deadlock’ on the Commission and assure efficient operations. This perception of perpetual deadlock is incorrect. … Political actors who violate campaign finance laws, and their partisans, are often quick to denounce enforcement as a ‘partisan witch hunt,’” the letter states. “The FEC’s bipartisan makeup is a direct response to this claim and is fundamental to public confidence in the system.”
A coalition letter led by People United For Privacy and signed by 130 organizations also expressed concerns with the bill’s provisions requiring federal record and public exposure of citizens’ private donations to nonprofits and other organizations, expanding the definition of “electioneering communications” to police online ads, and forcing the disclosure of past donations from political appointments.
“Our elections will not be more honest, more informed, or more secure from foreign interference if we sacrifice the privacy of American citizens. But our democracy will be weakened if voices are eliminated from public debate through intimidation and overregulation,” the letter states.
Not only would the various acts included in the legislation provide opportunities for harassment and bullying, some warn, but it would also impose “excessive” burdens on organizations that want to run political advertisements.
“It puts excessive regulation on these nonprofit organizations that they don’t currently have in terms of running ads and for smaller organizations especially that have limited resources. This really just could kill their ability to advocate on the causes that they care about,” Heather Lauer, executive director for People United for Privacy, told The Federalist. “So those are kind of the things that we’re focused on, the things that impact an individual’s First Amendment rights as a donor as well as the things that impact the ability of nonprofit organizations to speak on behalf of donors on issues of importance.”