Five Bills That Could Help Fix Our Broken Democracy

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Given recent events in Washington, we wouldn’t blame you for feeling dismayed about the prospect that Congress will be able to fix our broken democracy anytime soon, but there actually are a handful of bipartisan bills that could help.

Aaron Scherb, the director of legislative affairs at Common Cause, told us about five bills he’s watching that are aimed at making our politics more transparent, fair and functional. (Click on “track this bill” to find out how it’s progressing and what you can do to support it. )

  • S. 375, the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, would require Senators — and candidates for the Senate — to file electronic copies of their campaign fundraising reports with the FEC. Candidates currently only have to file paper reports with the secretary of the Senate, although at least a dozen Senators choose to file reports electronically. The bill is sponsored by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and has 36 cosponsors, including six Republicans. The legislation’s proponents argue that filing electronically will make disclosure statements available to the public more quickly at a lower expense. Track this bill »
  • HR 1380, the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act would require the Government Printing Office to operate a website where the public could have access to all congressionally mandated reports — such as fundraising reports — in one place. The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), and has 14 cosponsors including two Republicans. Track this bill »
  • The Voter Empowerment Act has been introduced in both the House (HR 12, sponsored by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), with 176 cosponsors) and in the Senate (S. 123, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), with 12 cosponsors). The act would amend various laws governing voter registration to make it easier to vote and harder for states to disenfrancise residents. Among other provisions, the act would require each state to create a website on which residents can register to vote and would establish national guidelines to make it easier to register, including same-day registration. Track this bill in the House and the Senate »
  • HR 760, the Readable Legislation Act requires proposed legislation to more clearly lay out which laws that will be affected if the legislation is enacted, and how those laws will be affected. It aims to keep legislators from voting on legislation they don’t fully understand. “It gives members of Congress one fewer excuse to not study bills before voting on them,” a spokesman for the bill’s sponsor, Justin Amash (R-MI) told MLive, adding that it will “allow members of the public to follow what Congress is doing.” Amash has 28 cosponsors on the bill, including nine Democrats. Track this bill »
  • The Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2013 has been introduced in both the House (HR 2902, sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) with 19 cosponsors) and in the Senate (S. 1424, sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-NY) with 5 cosponsors). It would require the Supreme Court to operate under the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which already applies to all federal judges except Supreme Court justices. Track this bill in the House and the Senate »

Scherb also noted this bill, which Common Cause and its reform-minded allies oppose:

  • HR 2019 seeks to eliminate public funding of presidential campaigns and party conventions, and to use the savings for pediatric research. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) has 151 cosponsors, 10 of whom are Democrats. Roll Call writes that the reallocation of funding to pediatric research is part of a bid by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to soften the Republican Party’s image. Throwing out public funding, however, would give rich donors even more influence over elections than Citizens United has already granted. Track this bill »
John Light is a reporter and producer for the Moyers team. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, Grist, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Vox and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. He's a graduate of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.
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