In January, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), chairman of the Democracy Reform Task Force, introduced H.R. 1, otherwise known as the “For the People Act.” The bill puts forward common-sense reforms to limit corruption and make government responsive to the people, not just the powerful.
Since H.R. 1 was introduced, however, conservatives have come out in opposition. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went so far as to call the bill’s effort to make the U.S. electoral system fairer a progressive “power grab.” And just weeks after H.R. 1 was filed, the Conservative Action Project released a memo signed by over 100 well-known conservatives opposing the bill.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of those who signed this memo have personally benefited from the kind of corruption and wrongdoing the bill aims to address. These anti-reformers have no business advising anyone on policies that make democracy fairer and more inclusive.
For example, as the nation’s top law enforcement officer in the 1980s, Attorney General Edwin Meese III, founder of the Conservative Action Project, was the subject of a special counsel investigation for facilitating a billion-dollar defense contract for the Wedtech Corporation, which would have benefited his close friend. He was separately investigated for procuring federal jobs for people with whom he had financial ties.
Former members of Congress who signed the memo also have histories of corruption and impropriety. For instance, former Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas) had a career rife with accusations of money laundering and illicit campaign finance activities, as well as misusing federal resources for political gain. Former Rep. Bob McEwen (R-Ohio) was notorious for overdrawing his House checking account while in office.
And let’s not forget the anti-H.R. 1 memo’s most notorious signatory: former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore. Moore, who lost his 2017 bid for Senate after facing accusations that he sexually assaulted underage girls. He was also removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court twice for misconduct.
In addition to ethically corrupt former officials, the Conservative Action Project’s memo is a who’s who of hate groups and those infamous for spewing racism, sexism and anti-LGBT rhetoric, including the Family Research Council, American Family Association, Legal Immigrants for America, Brigitte Gabriel, Elaine Donnelly, and retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin. Also included are individuals hostile to voting rights such as J. Christian Adams who served on President Donald Trump’s defunct voter fraud commission and Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, who has said voting should be limited to property owners.
So why this opposition to good government reforms? Hans A. von Spakovsky, another memo signatory who champions discriminatory and oppressive voting measures, made the true concerns clear: He reportedly recently warned a group of GOP donors that the pro-democracy policies included in H.R. 1 — such as eliminating voter suppression tactics — would make it harder for Republicans to win elections.
Republican politicians promised to “drain the swamp” in 2016 but have done nothing to tackle the problem. In fact, they’ve only made it swampier. Rather than fulfilling their promise to clean up Washington by supporting H.R. 1, they have chosen fear-mongering. What’s worse, they’ve enlisted and amplified the voices of individuals who are hostile to democracy and who have contributed to the current broken system.
It is unsurprising that these forces of corruption and extremism oppose cleaning up the current political system. What is surprising, is that conservatives have put the worst within their ranks at the center of a partisan battle against legislation with the potential to transform our democracy — and the lives of all Americans — for the better.
Hauwa Ahmed works on the Democracy and Government team at the Center for American Progress.
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