There’s a war being waged in the opinion pages of our newspapers, on social media and on talk radio. You’ve likely seen positive and negative ads about the For The People Act on Hulu or Facebook, and read conflicting opinions in print.
Why? What is the bill, and why do people have such strong feelings about it? Let’s break it down.
You may have heard about the For The People Act recently — also known as HR.1 and S.1. These abbreviations refer to the two versions of the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. HR.1 has passed the House, and S.1 is being considered in the Senate.
The For The People Act is a large package of democracy reform that includes three major categories: ending the dominance of big money in politics, clean and fair elections and ensuring that public servants work for the public interest.
Some specific reforms in the bill include: ending partisan gerrymandering to prevent politicians from picking their voters; shining a light on dark money in politics by upgrading online political ad disclosure and requiring all organizations involved in political activity to disclose their large donors; creating a multiple matching system for small donations, which would break the stranglehold of special interests on Congress and would be completely paid for by a new surcharge on corporate lawbreakers and wealthy tax cheats, not taxpayers; instating same-day and automatic voter registration across the country; expanding early and absentee voting; reenfranchising former felons; restoring the Voting Rights Act; enhancing federal support for voting system security; and slowing the revolving door in Washington so that former politicians stop getting rich as lobbyists while undermining our public interest.
So how do West Virginians feel about all these reforms? Really good, it turns out. The overwhelming majority of West Virginians support this bill, including 76% of Trump voters. Poll after poll corroborates this. We can’t agree on much these days it seems, but one thing we can agree on is that our government isn’t working for us. Unfortunately, there are lots of examples of this in West Virginia, including one that hits close to home for many of us: the drug crisis.
Thanks to the excellent reporting done by the Gazette-Mail and The Herald-Dispatch, we’re now learning about the condescending and downright evil way that pharmaceutical corporations talked about West Virginians as they pumped opioids into our state and poisoned our people. Millions of dollars was spent on politicians to block regulation and, as a result, countless lives and families were destroyed. The main corporate culprits spent millions on lobbying. Corruption kills, and we’re seeing it firsthand.
Getting dark money out of politics won’t bring our loved ones back, but it will prevent a crisis like this from happening again. So why don’t any Republican members of the U.S. Senate support the bill, despite their constituents overwhelmingly doing so? It’s a classic, downright boring story: Congress is gridlocked by partisanship. Since the strategy of both parties is simply to block the agenda of the other, nothing gets done and “bipartisanship” is meaningless.
This happens because money is what decides who wins elections, not good politics. Because of the enormous cost of winning elections — an average of $15.7 million for a single Senate race — our voices don’t matter. Senators no longer have to act in their constituents’ best interests to win, they just have to raise a lot of money. And that money isn’t coming from the average working-class person. It’s coming from millionaires and corporations, and it’s definitely not without strings attached.
I’m an independent, and I don’t have a lot of faith in either political party. I’ve seen firsthand the tragic and destructive effects of dark money in politics on my life and my family, as a daughter of a first-generation immigrant and former felon with absolutely no voting rights, and a mother who fell victim to the opioid epidemic that still haunts her.
Both parties operate in a system of legalized corruption and accept millions of dollars in dark money from special interest groups every year. That’s why I’m so interested in and supportive of the For The People Act — it would decrease the power of both parties to entrench themselves as they do now.
Any politician who supports the bill is doing something unfortunately rare these days: choosing country over party. Anyone who doesn’t support the bill, it’s safe to assume, is benefiting from our broken system and is too comfortable to want to fix it.
I truly believe Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., want to do what is best for their constituents. It’s interesting that neither senator co-sponsors this bill, and that Manchin has come out against it, when their constituents overwhelmingly support it. Both of these senators regularly voice commitments to bipartisanship, and there is unprecedented bipartisan support from the people of West Virginia for S.1.
One thing is for sure: Independents like me are going to keep feeling disgusted and disempowered by our political process until we clean up Washington. We are long overdue for campaign finance reform, and, right now, our senators have the power to pass a bill that would make our democracy actually work for West Virginians, not just for the 1%. This bill is good for West Virginia, and we should doubt and question the agenda of anyone who says otherwise (I’m looking at you, Hoppy Kercheval).
Manchin and Capito need to vote in favor of this bill. The support of independents like me depends on it.