SALT LAKE CITY — The state's only Democrat in Congress voted for a campaign finance and ethics reform package Friday that one of his Utah colleagues calls the worst bill he has seen since his time in office.
Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, joined House Democrats in passing the "For the People Act," which addresses campaign finance, ethics, accountability and voter rights. Utah's three congressional Republicans voted against the measure.
The House passed the bill 234-193, but it is dead on arrival in the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., does not plan to allow a vote.
The measure calls for states to provide automatic voter registration, makes Election Day a federal holiday and creates independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional boundaries as a way to end partisan gerrymandering.
In a tweet earlier this week, Rep. Chris Stewart said "H.R. 1 is the single worst bill we have considered since I’ve been in Congress. It is authoritarian and anti-free speech."
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, mockingly calls it the "Democrat Politician Protection Act."
"This bill ensures corrupt elections. Period," he said in a terse statement.
The bill, which includes an amendment McAdams advanced to shine more light on lobbying activities, curbs the power of special interest groups and puts the public back in the driver’s seat of government, he said.
"Megadonors and special interest groups have too much influence in our system and everyday families get left behind,” McAdams said. “We are public servants and should always uphold the public trust in everything we do and perform to the highest ethical standards."
McAdams said the measure exposes so-called “dark money” in politics by upgrading online political ad disclosure and requiring all organizations involved in political activity to disclose their large donors. It also increases accountability by expanding conflict-of-interest law.
McAdams' amendment lowers the threshold for when lobbyists must register and report their activities. Individuals don't have to register if they spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying. The amendment changes that to 10 percent.
“By avoiding registering as a lobbyist, people are either seeking to avoid basic transparency requirements or they wish to hide what legislation they are trying to influence,” he said. “My amendment is a common-sense step to let the public know who is working to draft bills and in whose interest.”
The measure also puts teeth into ethics oversight by overhauling the Office of Government Ethics, closing loopholes for lobbyists and ensuring “watchdogs” have enough resources to enforce the law, McAdams said.
Stewart said the bill is intended to expand access to the ballot box and take big money out of politics. But one of the ways it attempts to do that is by using federal tax dollars to fund elections. Small campaign donations, for example, are given a 6:1 match from the federal government, he said.
McAdams said recent changes to the bill ensure that no taxpayer dollars are used for campaign purposes. Money used for a matching fund to support small dollar donations will come from a segregated account funded by so-called “bad actor” penalties and fines, and not from taxpayer dollars, he said.
The bill also forces states to adopt same-day voter registration and disregards states' voter identification laws, allowing sworn statements to take the place of other forms of ID at the voting booth, Stewart said.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said the bill is a solution in search of a problem.
"Election integrity and access is critical, but cannot and should not be managed in a one-size-fits-all, centralized federal government program,” he said. "Not only is it likely unconstitutional, but I believe it is undemocratic and fundamentally un-American in the way it attempts to control free speech, the political process and the way we engage in civic participation."
The National Republican Congressional Committee blasted McAdams' support of the measure, saying it shows he's only working for himself.
"By voting to funnel public funds to his campaign, McAdams' proven he’s right at home in the swamp," said NRCC spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair.41 comments on this story
According to the Democratic National Committee, the Democrats are making good on a campaign promise to hold President Donald Trump accountable and make government work for the people.
“No president in modern history has done more to undermine the rule of law and destroy public trust in our institutions than Donald Trump," said Tom Perez, DNC chairman. "No political party has done more to disenfranchise voters and reward wealthy special interests at the expense of the middle class than the Republican Party."