Election and Campaign Finance Reform
Improving our Elections Process
The right to vote is the bedrock of our democratic system, and we must take effective action to ensure free and fair elections. Unfortunately, far too many voters become disenfranchised due the challenges they face in registering and accessing the polls. During the 2012 election, thousands of Americans waited in unacceptably long lines and encountered a wide range of other problems, from inadequately trained poll workers to difficulties registering to vote and securing provisional ballots when their registrations were challenged.
As a former Secretary of State, I find it indefensible that these issues continue to plague our elections in the 21st Century. They present distressing barriers to participation in our democratic process, particularly among minority voters, members of our Armed Services, people with disabilities and seniors.
I am working on a series of measures that will address these challenges and ensure that all Americans are able to exercise their right to vote. I have cosponsored bills that would make elections fairer, more transparent, and open to all Americans.
Voting Rights Act
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) is one of the seminal pieces of American civil rights legislation. Following the end of the Civil War, segregation flourished in the south since so-called “Jim Crow” laws prevented African Americans from having a say in the local political process, and the federal government refused to intervene. The VRA changed this policy for good: no longer would Congress stand by as citizens were denied their most fundamental rights.
Unfortunately, in June 2013, the Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, dealt a major blow to the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. The 5-4 decision invalidated the coverage formula used for Section 5 of the Act, which required certain states with a history of racial discrimination to “pre-clear” any changes to election laws or voting procedures with the Justice Department.
I vehemently disagree with the Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. This decision has already had negative impacts on state and local jurisdictions, disenfranchising many low-income and minority voters. Controversial policies that have resulted from this decision include “racial gerrymandering” and oppressive voter identification laws. For example, following Shelby, Texas quickly implemented a strict voter ID law that had been previously blocked by DOJ, and North Carolina adopted a draconian set of changes to its voting laws that the DOJ has been fighting in court.
Congress is currently exploring ways to develop new criteria that aims to meet the Court’s unelucidated standard. I am proud to be a cosponsor of H.R. 885, the Voting Rights Amendment Act, a bill that restores the safeguards of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in a manner consistent with the Shelby County decision. I am also a cosponsor of H.R. 2867, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would reinstitute pre-clearance requirements for 13 states, establish a new geographic coverage formula based on current conditions and a 25 year “look back” provision, and institute greater transparency in federal elections to ensure voters are made aware of last-minute changes to voting procedures.
Finally, I am a cosponsor of H.R. 5694, the Automatic Voter Registration Act, which would require states to automatically register all drivers’ license recipients as voters. This would tear down one of the major barriers to participation in our election process, making it easier for millions of citizens to cast their ballot.
Campaign Finance Reform
I am firmly committed to removing the influence of money from elections.
The rising cost of political campaigns is a serious cause for concern in the United States, as some qualified candidates are discouraged from running for office because they do not have the financial means to do so. Furthermore, the exorbitant cost of campaigns has increased the role of political action committees, interest groups, and political parties through unregulated soft money donations.
In its controversial Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court overturned long-standing legal precedents, effectively allowing virtually unlimited corporate and special interest spending in elections. The eventual result of this and subsequent Supreme Court rulings was the emergence of Super PACs – political action committees permitted to accept unlimited contributions and make unlimited expenditures aimed at electing or defeating federal candidates.
I am proud to be a cosponsor of the DISCLOSE Act, which would require timely disclosure by Super PACs that spend money on campaign advertisements and would require lobbyists to disclose their expenditures to these groups. It would also force corporations to disclose campaign expenditures to their shareholders and would obligate Super PACs to disclose their top five donors in each ad. To further enhance oversight of corporate spending in elections, I am also a cosponsor of H.J. Res. 23, which proposes a Constitutional amendment clarifying that corporations are not entities entitled to the personal rights enshrined in the Constitution.
Further, in order to remedy the High Court’s overarching opinion that allowed unprecedented amounts of money to flow into the political system, I cosponsored a Constitutional Amendment that would grant Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign contributions in federal and state elections, respectively.
Finally, in an effort to curb the influence of money given directly to candidates, I was an original cosponsor of the Fair Elections Now Act last Congress. This sensible, overdue legislation would create a voluntary small donor matching funds system for congressional elections. To qualify, congressional candidates would have to raise at least $50,000 from more than 1500 contributors. No individual would be able to donate more than $100. Candidates who met these criteria would receive a primary and general election grant in addition to 4-to-1 matching funds for small donations.
Changing the way we conduct business in Washington and making our government more transparent and accountable to the public is one of my highest priorities. We must ensure that national policy decisions are based on the power of ideas and not the power of money.