Nearly every Saturday, I’m in towns large and small across our region – strolling the supermarket aisles and listening to both the concerns and aspirations of the families I serve in Congress. It’s how I get feedback on key issues coming up for votes, help somebody who’s having an issue with the VA or IRS and even gather ideas for legislation to introduce when I’m back in Washington.
One concern I hear time and again is about the rampant corruption and money in politics. Folks wonder aloud what else could be stalling progress on the important work that needs to be done. A prime example was a single donation made by a group affiliated with then-Speaker Paul Ryan – except this donation was anonymous and written for a whopping $25 million. Speaker Ryan’s group wasn’t required to disclose the identity of the donor – and the American people will never know who was funding this organization.
Folks across the political spectrum are disgusted by it – and I don’t blame them. As a former investigative journalist, I exposed stories of greed, corruption and secrecy in politics – and that work hasn’t stopped since I got to Congress.
That’s why as a member of House Democratic leadership, I helped develop our “For the People” agenda we campaigned on during the last election – which focuses on bringing down the cost of health care and prescription drugs, rebuilding America through investments in our crumbling infrastructure and cleaning up the mess in Washington.
And when voters entrusted us with the House majority, one of the first steps we took was introducing and passing H.R. 1 – known as the For the People Act – to confront Washington’s culture of corruption. This comprehensive reform legislation does three important things:
• Ends the reign of big money in our politics. The For the People Act will unmask secret money and require more transparency from super PACs – and also prevent the flow of foreign money into our elections.
• Demands accountability and ethics from public officials. Our legislation would tighten the rules on lobbyists and foreign agents – and ban members of Congress from serving on for-profit boards. It would also end the practice of using taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment lawsuits, require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns and create a code of ethics for the Supreme Court.
• Expands access to the ballot box for all Americans. The For the People Act would make our democracy more accessible to folks by promoting automatic voter registration, expanding early or absentee voting and protecting our voting systems from cyber attacks. It also would get rid of partisan gerrymandering – ensuring voters choose their lawmakers rather than lawmakers choosing their voters.
At its core, this legislation takes power from Washington and the special interests and returns it back to the people. The U.S. House of Representatives took bold action – and now the ball is in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hands. Unfortunately, entrenched politicians like him are clinging to power and protecting the special interests – and he’s refusing to bring our For the People Act up for a vote.
But we can’t back down from this fight to give Americans a voice in our democracy and to clean up the corruption in Washington. While there are some in our nation’s capital who will always protect the special interests, I’ll always fight for the people. Period.
Congresswoman Cheri Bustos represents Illinois’ 17th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and serves on both the House Appropriations and Agriculture committees.