Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is trying to do what some might say is impossible: Take money out of politics.
On Saturday, the veteran lawmaker met with constituents at a town hall meeting in San Jose to discuss a recently passed bill in the House — a sweeping anti-corruption measure aimed at adopting stronger voting rights, enforcing stricter ethical standards on federal officials, ending partisan gerrymandering and getting big money out of politics.
“People worry about the role of big money in politics — rightly so,” said Lofgren. “You want candidates to be able to run without having billionaires as friends.”
The bill, titled H.R.1 or “For the People Act” was drafted by the House administration committee that Lofgren leads and passed in the House in March by a 234-193 margin.The meeting Saturday was held at the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors chamber, familiar to Lofgren who served as a supervisor for 13 years, before representing California’s 19th Congressional district, which covers a large portion of San Jose and Santa Clara County.
The ambitious proposal is the Democrats’ latest attempt at cracking down on corruption and making government more transparent — a promise they’re trying to keep following the 2018 midterms.
According to Lofgren, some of the main conditions the all-encompassing measure includes is requiring Super Political Action Committees (PACs) and “dark money” organizations — principally 501(c)(4)s and 501(c)(6)s — to disclose the identity of their donors, set up nonpartisan redistricting committees to tackle gerrymandering, automatically register voters at the national level and allow formerly imprisoned individuals the ability to vote.
The bill would also set up public financing of campaigns, backed by small donations where the government would give a 6-to-1 match, require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns and implement stricter lobbying registration requirements.
Many in the audience Saturday cheered Lofgren’s efforts before asking questions about how the measure would actually work– specifically how to ensure big and dark money would stay out of politics.
Lofgren said Citizens United is the biggest obstacle, adding that the law says money is equated to political speech, but stronger regulation on corporations and a “better Supreme Court” is needed to fully address the issue.
Other questions touched on political hot button issues including impeachment, which Lofgren said she did not support yet given the lack of complete evidence and in light of other critical topics such as immigration, climate change and the upcoming 2020 census.
One person asked how the federal government can be kept accountable after reports allege the mishandling and deaths of many undocumented immigrants in ICE custody, and how the DREAM Act can be passed into law.
Immigration is a hot topic issue in Santa Clara County in the wake of Bambi Larson’s murder, spurring debate on the county’s current sanctuary city policy. The Board of Supervisors recently voted to revisit the policy — receiving a mix of both immense backlash from several minority communities and applause from affluent, upper-middle class and predominantly white neighborhoods.
Lofgren’s views overwhelmingly supported securing immigrants’ rights.
“We need to allow young people who were brought to this country to gain their legal status,” Lofgren said, adding that the only thing separating Dreamers from other Americans is the paperwork. “When someone comes seeking asylum — which is lawful — the Trump administration is saying those individuals should be locked up.”
The longtime congresswoman said Central Americans are fleeing from violence and crime.
“Most people don’t say, ‘Gosh I’d like to leave my whole family and place where my family has lived forever and go to some place I’d never heard of and risk my life getting there.’ That’s not something people do frivolously,” she said.
While none of the audience’s questions disapproved of the proposal, the bill has been criticized by some top politicians who say that it’s a 2020 campaign booster for Democrats running for re-election and an attempt to hijack Americans’ free speech and elections.
“They’re trying to clothe this power grab with cliches about ‘restoring democracy’ and doing it ‘For the People,’ but their proposal is simply a naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in an op-ed about the bill in January. “It should be called the Democrat Politician Protection Act.”
Lofgren rebutted McConnell’s statement on Saturday, saying that the power grab is for “the American people.”
“I’m hoping that if they will not accept the entire provision that we’ll be able to find some pieces of this bill that we can agree on,” Lofgren said. “And for those (provisions) that we cannot accept that the American people will rise up and put some pressure on the United States Senate to get it done.”
Democrats, however, are fighting an uphill battle — several prominent Republicans have torn down the bill calling it “unconstitutional” and “outrageous.” McConnell swore not to introduce it in the Senate.
“I’m proud of what we did,” said Lofgren. “Obviously it’s just a start — we have our work cut out for us.”
Contact Nadia Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.