The House of Representatives Wednesday passed Democrats‘ signature voting and campaign finance reform legislation that aims to expand access to the polls, fight partisan gerrymandering and set up new public funding for congressional races.
The For the People Act of 2021, known as H.R. 1, passed by a vote of 220 to 210. Three Republicans joined with Democrats in approving the sweeping voter rights reform that now heads to the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said the legislation is needed to combat voter suppression efforts in states, to crackdown on corruption and to diminish the influence of big donors in politics.
“This is called the For The People bill,” Pelosi said Wednesday at an H.R. 1 event prior to its passage. “And in doing so, we combat big, dark, special-interest money in politics and amplify the voice of the American people.”
A major pillar of the legislation is setting up a new public financing system for congressional and presidential elections to incentivize small-dollar donations. The legislation would establish a 6:1 match for each grassroots contribution to a candidate up to $200.
For example, a $200 donation to a House candidate would garner a $1,200 match in public funds for a total contribution of $1,400.
The public match program would be funded by a new 4.75% surcharge on criminal and civil penalties and settlements that corporations pay to the U.S. government. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated this week the new revenue stream would generate about $3.2 billion over 10 years.
Republicans blasted the public financing provision as a way to line the campaign coffers of members of Congress.
“This bill isn’t for the people, it’s for the politicians,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill.
The voting reform legislation, numbered H.R. 1 to signify it is the top priority of House Democrats, would also enact automatic voter registration, restore voting rights to felons after they have completed their sentences and expand early voting access and absentee voting.
It also prohibits voter roll purges and partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, imposes new campaign finance rules, and requires presidential nominees to release 10 years of tax returns.
H.R. 1 would also take aim at big-dollar donors and dark money in politics by requiring additional disclosure of campaign donors and disclaimers on political advertising.
Republicans, however, said voters want more integrity and trust in the election system and that requires stricter reforms like voter ID.
“This bill makes elections less trustworthy, not more,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas. “Trust is everything.”
The legislation now heads to the Senate where it has a tough road for passage as the chamber is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. The legislation would require 60 votes to advance and need GOP support.