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November 29, 2021

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Will McConnell buck the voters?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has built a career on weakening our democracy. Nothing seems to bring out the passion in the famously stoic McConnell more than opposing pro-democracy reforms.

Well, now he has the challenge of a lifetime. The House of Representatives has just passed HR1, the For the People Act, the most sweeping pro-democracy and anti-corruption measure of the past 50 years. McConnell has denounced HR1 and pledged that he will block it from coming to the floor of the Senate.

But if McConnell is so eager to hold a vote on the Green New Deal, a legislative proposal that he strongly opposes, why is he so committed to blocking Senate consideration of HR1? Could it be that he thinks Republicans will have a hard time voting against pro-democracy reforms? Is he worried that voters may hold accountable defenders of the current corrupt political system?

Those would be reasonable fears. But McConnell should be worried also about the impact of preventing a vote on HR1. Voters are desperate for far-reaching campaign finance and ethics reforms — divided only on whether the system should be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt. Voters are not likely to treat his obstructionism kindly.

They are likely to be especially outraged because HR1 so effectively addresses what so many people are so outraged about and the shameful anti-democratic practices that so tarnish our nation.

Among other measures, HR1 would:

• Replace the current campaign finance system that empowers the super rich and big corporations with one that relies on small donors and public matching funds.

• End secret spending in elections.

• Eliminate partisan gerrymandering.

• Establish automatic voter registration.

• Restore voting rights to felons who have served their time.

• Make Election Day a national holiday.

McConnell calls these democracy-expanding measures a “power grab.”

Of course, he’s right to be worried, for it is a reallocation of power away from a narrow grouping of super rich oligarchs and to the people.

That redistribution of power is called “democracy.”

McConnell is not alone in attacking HR1. The Koch Brothers’ main organization, Americans for Prosperity, says “the free speech regulations in HR1 would make it more difficult than ever for people to make their voices heard and hold their elected leaders accountable.”

They also are right to be worried. Those supposed “free speech regulations” are disclosure requirements that would end political dark money — a move that would absolutely reduce the undue political influence of super rich and corporate donors who are able to hide their efforts to buy elections.

Big Business in general is upset. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the trade association for large corporations, leads a large grouping of trade associations in denouncing HR1 for “pushing certain voices, representing large segments of the electorate and our economy, out of the political process altogether.”

Actually, HR1 is amplifying the voices of the electorate. Although the point seems to evade the trade associations, Big Business is not part of “the electorate.” That said, HR1 doesn’t limit corporations’ ability to spend on elections — that will require a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United — though it does end their ability to finance electioneering secretly.

McConnell and the power elite are right to be frightened. HR1 would upset the normal way of doing business in Washington. It would break Corporate America’s stranglehold over our government and curtail the shameful vote-suppressing activity increasing across the nation.

But they are clinging to a backward-looking strategy that is doomed to fail. In a nation marked by the most severe wealth and income inequality of the past 100 years, amid intense outrage across the political spectrum against a rigged system that works for corporations and the super rich at the expense of the rest of us, the American people will not tolerate McConnell’s obstructionism. Democracy reform is coming to the United States, whether McConnell and his corporate allies like it or not.

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. He wrote this for