Bad politicians should be held accountable by the American people, not by corporations

For the People ACt Nancy Pelosi steps of Capitol
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi delivers remarks on H.R. 1, For the People Act, on the steps of Capitol Hill on March 3, 2021.

  • After the Capitol attack, many corporations pulled funding from politicians who supported Trump.
  • Some of the companies are already changing course, showing that it was likely a PR stunt.
  • Americans cannot rely on corporations to speak for them. Congress needs to pass the For the People Act to amplify Americans’ voices.
  • Eric Lutz writes for Vanity Fair and the Guardian, among other publications.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After a MAGA mob stormed the United States Capitol in January in an effort to overturn the 2020 election results, the corporate world quickly worked to distance itself from Donald Trump and other Republicans who had helped instigate the riot.

Companies, from Goldman Sachs to Walmart, suspended political donations. The Chamber of Commerce, typically a cash cow for the GOP, promised to withhold money from lawmakers who promoted Trump’s “Big Lie.” And, in perhaps the most personal blow to the former president, the PGA pulled its 2022 championship from Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey golf club. “The US business community has interests fully in alignment with the American public,” one professor in Yale’s management school told USA Today amid the exodus, “and not with Trump’s autocratic bigoted wing of the GOP.”

That was, in retrospect, a rather optimistic take on what was transpiring. But one can be forgiven for taking heart in the corporate retreat: Lawmakers obviously wouldn’t expel Sen. Josh Hawley, one of the lawmakers who helped spearhead the objection to the election results. Trump’s second impeachment trial was sure to end with another acquittal. But perhaps, at the very least, there’d be some financial consequences. The private sector would speak, and it would say: Get lost.

But the corporate pullback was never going to last, because it was never really about accountability. In the immediate aftermath of the deadly siege, it was a bad look to be associated with the politicians who egged on the pro-Trump rioters. But for some of corporate America, the commitment lasted only as long as the country’s political memory, which is to say, not very.

Just a PR move?

As Popular Information reported earlier this week, several corporations that had distanced themselves from politicians whose actions didn’t align with their “company values” had quickly – and quietly – reversed course. Intel donated to the National Republican Campaign Committee. AT&T and Cigna each contributed funds to organizations run by GOP objectors to Joe Biden’s victory.

That’s just three of five dozen corporations that vowed to pull political donations, either entirely or from Republicans alone. But, Bloomberg News reported recently, more are likely to follow in the coming months. While some objectors, including Hawley, will likely remain on a “no-fly list,” Bloomberg reported that the retreat was “never meant to be a shutdown of the Wall Street money machine.” Not every firm has reneged on its promise, but for many, the change wasn’t meant to be permanent.

“There was a feeling that companies need to take a stand, and that was probably met with a concern about the brand,” Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told Bloomberg. “If companies so quickly and easily backtrack on the PAC suspension, it will prove to be a PR move.”

If it does, the fact that it was such a seductive move is telling. American voices are so muted in the corridors of power that it is perhaps only natural to take heart in the notion that companies will speak for us. Corporations should be applauded for standing up for American values and following through, but that alone is not an effective mechanism of accountability, nor is it a reliable one. Bad politicians should be held accountable by the American people, and Americans should be empowered to do so.

Hope in a bill

There’s some hope for that in the For the People Act, which passed the House earlier this month. The bill, sponsored by Democrat John Sarbanes, would not only expand voting rights in America, safeguarding these rights against GOP suppression efforts that have recently found footing in Georgia, it would also significantly dilute the influence of big money in politics by strengthening the power of small donations. The bill ideally would make politicians more accountable to the people they represent as opposed to corporate and big dollar benefactors.

But without amending or abolishing the filibuster, the bill stands no chance of passing in the Senate. President Biden has recently thrown his support behind restoring the “talking filibuster,” which requires a senator to actually speak the whole time on the Senate floor and thus makes its use more difficult. Republicans, though, have suggested they’d be willing to do that to defeat the Democrats’ election bill. “There is no amount of time that I will not dedicate on the Senate floor to stopping the Democrats from passing this kind of radical legislation,” GOP Senator Tom Cotton told reporters recently.

Democrats must therefore be prepared to take even more aggressive action against the filibuster to pass the For the People Act and amplify Americans’ voices in the two venues they’re best heard: in the ballot box and in the campaign coffers. Accountability should not be dependent on the whims of big dollar donors or the demands of companies’ bottom lines.

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Ted Cruz falsely claimed Democrats want to give ‘illegal aliens’ and ‘child molesters’ the right to vote during a leaked invite-only call with GOP state lawmakers

Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asks a question during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz falsely said Democrats want to let “illegal aliens” and “child molesters” vote.
  • He was speaking on a call with GOP state lawmakers about the ongoing battle over voting rights.
  • GOP lawmakers in key states have introduced laws to restrict voting, as Democrats seek to expand it.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

On an invitation-only call with GOP state lawmakers last week, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz falsely claimed Democrats are working to give “illegal aliens” and “child molesters” the right to vote, according to a recording of the call obtained by the Associated Press.

The call, which occurred amid an ongoing battle over voting rights, was organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that recommends legislation to lawmakers.

Cruz criticized H.R. 1, a campaign finance reform and voting rights package that House Democrats passed earlier this month. The bill would require more transparency in campaign finance, strengthen regulations for lobbyists, and seek to expand voting access through a number of measures.

Republicans have denounced the bill, calling it a major federal overreach into the way state and local governments conduct their elections.

“H.R. 1′s only objective is to ensure that Democrats can never again lose another election, that they will win and maintain control of the House of Representatives and the Senate and of the state legislatures for the next century,” Cruz said on the call, according to AP.

The legislation is unlikely to pass in the Senate, though the debate over voting rights is playing out in state legislatures across the country.

As of February, 250 measures that would restrict voting were introduced across 43 states, according to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice. Insider’s Grace Panetta reported Republicans in key states are working to advance legislation that would restrict voting.

Many of these efforts claim to be aimed at improving election integrity, citing the unsubstantiated claims that widespread voter and election fraud occurred in the 2020 election.

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The US House passes H.R. 1, a major voting rights and campaign finance reform package

HR 1
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., call on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the Democrats’ HR-1 “For the People Act” to the floor for a vote, during an event on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 10, 2020

  • The US House passed HR 1, Democrats’ flagship democracy reform package. 
  • The bill includes major voting rights expansions and stricter regulations on campaign spending.
  • The legislation largely passed along party lines by a vote of 220-210.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The House passed H.R. 1, Democrats’ flagship democracy reform and voting rights legislative package, in a Wednesday night vote.

The bill, dubbed the For the People Act, was first introduced and passed by the House, at the beginning of the 116th Congress in 2019, but was not taken up in the Senate. 

The law makes major changes requiring more transparency in the US’ campaign finance system, sets stricter standards for lobbyists, and includes a slew of measures to increase access to the ballot box, including expansions of voter registration opportunities, mail and early voting, and expanded election security measures. 

In 2021, the bill passed largely along party lines by a vote of 220-210 with Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi the sole Democrat to vote against the legislation. No Republicans voted in favor of the bill.

But the Senate version of the legislation, S. 1, faces a much steeper uphill battle to get the 60 votes required to withstand the filibuster in the US Senate, which is evenly split between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. 

Democrats are touting the measure as a critical bulwark against the excesses of money in politics and to guard against ongoing efforts to restrict voting access by states in the aftermath of the 2020 election. 

“In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy, a never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people, and a newly aggressive attack on voting rights taking place right now all across the country, this landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our election,” the White House said in a statement supporting the bill. 

Conservatives, however, have criticized the legislation as a partisan power-grab and a massive federal overreach into election administration, which is primarily controlled by states and localities in the United States.

“H.R. 1 federally mandates how states run their elections and forces a one-size-fits-all election system on our country, which is not only unconstitutional, but can lead to chaos and confusion for voters,” House Administration Committee ranking member Rep. Rodney Davis said in a February 25 hearing

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday, former President Donald Trump, who spent most of 2020 pushing false claims of voter fraud, called the bill “a disaster,” saying, “this monster must be stopped.”

2020 election voting
In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, file photo, a voter check with the registration table as he prepares to cast his ballots under a giant mural at Robious Elementary School on Election Day, in Midlothian, Va.

Congress has not passed major voting-related legislation since the Help America Vote Act in 2002, which among other things, gave states funding to purchase new voting equipment, standardized voter list maintenance procedures, and created the US Election Assistance Commission.

The For the People Act aims to increase transparency in the US’ campaign finance system by cracking down on foreign financial influence in US elections, requiring 501c(4) “dark money” groups to disclose political donations over a certain amount, and mandating digital platforms to create publicly-available databases of ad purchases. 

The legislation further creates a 6-to-1 public matching system for small campaign donations to candidates for federal office, including House members and presidential candidates. House leadership struck a deal with moderate House Democrats to clarify that the matching funds will not come from taxpayer coffers and to allow members to opt out, Politico reported. 

The bill also takes aim at the political influence industry, beefing up existing laws and regulations governing lobbying and ethics requirements for federal officials. 

The package also includes sweeping, large-scale election administration reforms and enhancements to election security procedures.

It mandates states to enact online, automatic, and same-day voter registration and to give voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, and softens voter ID laws by allowing voters to sign sworn affidavits instead of showing an ID. The bill also requires all states to hold 15 days of early voting as well as no-excuse mail voting while offering online ballot tracking, prepaid postage, and the option for voters to return their ballots at drop boxes.

The bill also addresses partisan gerrymandering by requiring independent commissions to conduct congressional redistricting in each state, and directs Congress to compile a record to pass a renewed version of the Voting Rights Act. 

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Pence slams Democratic voting reform bill HR 1 as an ‘unconstitutional power grab’

mike pence
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a visit to Rock Springs Church to campaign for GOP Senate candidates on January 4, 2021 in Milner, Georgia.

  • Mike Pence criticized the Democratic HR 1 voting reform bill as “unconstitutional power grab.”
  • Pence says that “election reform must be undertaken at the state level.”
  • The former vice president is slowly emerging back into the political world.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Former Vice President Mike Pence came out swinging on Wednesday, writing an op-ed that criticized House Democrats’ sweeping election reform bill as “unconstitutional power grab.”

The Democratic-backed House Resolution 1 (HR1), known as the For the People Act, would end partisan gerrymandering, expand early and absentee voting, establish national standards for voter registration, and blunt voter purges, among other reforms.

In his article for The Daily Signal, Pence argues that the bill would take away responsibilities that should be left to the states.

“Election reform is a national imperative, but under our Constitution, election reform must be undertaken at the state level,” he wrote. “Our Founders limited Congress’ role in conducting our elections for good reason: They wanted elections to be administered closest to the people, free from undue influence of the national government.”

He added: “While legislators in many states have begun work on election reform to restore public confidence in state elections, unfortunately, congressional Democrats have chosen to sweep those valid concerns and reforms aside and to push forward a brazen attempt to nationalize elections in blatant disregard of the US Constitution.”

Democrats and voting rights advocates have slammed the wave of GOP-backed initiatives aimed at restricting the vote in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s loss and his monthslong pressure campaign seeking to overturn the 2020 election results.

Trump’s claims of voter and election fraud are false.

While Republicans hope to use their majorities in key states to cement new Congressional districts to their liking, HR 1 would take away that responsibility, mandating that states adopt independent redistricting commissions.

To Pence, such a move only adds to his staunch opposition to the bill.

“Congressional districts would be redrawn by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats,” he wrote. “Leftists not only want you powerless at the ballot box, they want to silence and censor anyone who would dare to criticize their unconstitutional power grab.”

The former vice president says that having served in federal and statewide office, access to voting and secure elections are paramount.

(The 2020 election was among the most secure in modern history, and there is no evidence of widespread voter or election fraud.)

“HR 1 would turn a blind eye to very real problems at the state level, exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, and further undermine the American people’s confidence in the principle of ‘one person, one vote,'” he wrote.

Pence did not mention Trump in the op-ed, despite him still reportedly enjoying a warm relationship with the former president.

After the January 6 Capitol riots and the Electoral College certification process, which Trump tried to use to pressure Pence to overturn the election results, the former vice president initially kept a low profile, but has slowly emerged back into the political world.

Last week, he met with members of the conservative Republican Study Committee and told the group that he intends to start a political organization that will protect the legacy of the former administration, according to a CNN report.

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