House bill one seeks to overhaul ethics and corruption laws

The Democrats have started the 116th Congress by introducing House Resolution 1, or H.R. 1, which calls for sweeping anti-corruption reforms throughout the federal government. While Senate Republicans have already shot down the chance of the entire package becoming law anytime soon, individual aspects of the reform package are likely to be taken up as the term moves forward.

H.R. 1, called the For the People Act, targets three areas of change: reforming finance, strengthening ethics laws, and expanding voting rights.

In finance reform, the bill seeks to encourage the public financing of campaigns based on small donations. The bill supports a constitutional amendment to end Citizens United.

The Disclose Act, within the For the People Act, require Super PACs and “dark money” political organizations to make donor information available to the public. Also included is the Honest Ads Act, which would require social media sites to disclose the source and amount of money spent by groups on political ads on their platform.

The ethics reforms seek to eliminate conflicts of interest within the federal government, focusing on federal employees living within the revolving door of private to public sector work.

If the bill package is passed, federal employees would be banned from using their official position to participate in matters related to their former, private sector positions or to participate in matters in which they hold a financial interest. Agency heads can, however, coordinate with the Office of Government Ethics to waive this ban if deemed to be in the public’s interest. Violators could face a fine and one to five years in prison.

Contracting officers at federal agencies would face a two year ban on receiving compensation from companies which were awarded contracts. This is an increase from the current one year ban.

The bill also gives the Office of Government Ethics more oversight and enforcement power over lobbying registration requirements and foreign agents.

The President and the Vice President would also be required to disclose 10 years of their tax returns.

On voting rights, the bill seeks to create a national automatic voter registration system, end partisan gerrymandering, and enhance elections security and training.

The Democracy Restoration Act included in the bill would restore voting rights to individuals who have completed felony sentences.

The symbolic introduction of this far reaching package sends the message that Democrats are ready to bring change this term.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) noted during a press conference introducing the bill, “Guided by our new Members and the American people they represent – that we all represent – we are introducing H.R. 1: legislation to clean up elections and restore integrity to government.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke skeptically of Rep. Pelosi’s intentions. McConnell predicted Pelosi would “pass things…knowing full well that I’m not going to take them up,” further noting that H.R. 1 was “not going to go anywhere in the Senate.”

While full passage of the For the People Act as a package is unlikely, Pelosi has signaled interest in breaking up the bill and passing individual acts that can garner bipartisan support.

Posted in From the Hill



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