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House Democrats announce push for good-government bill

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, speaks

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, speaks to media at Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov. 28. Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster

WASHINGTON — House Democratic leaders on Friday announced that the first bill they will take up next year would make it easier to vote, end the dominance of big money in campaigns and require presidents to make their tax returns public.

The bill also would create an ethics code for the Supreme Court, require political groups to disclose their donors, bring public financing of elections to Congress, restore provisions to the 1965 Voting Rights Act and end partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts.

“The one issue that emerged in the campaign — the integrity of government — is part of the people’s agenda,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who is in line to become speaker next year, as she spoke about the House resolution bill known as H.R. 1.

Pelosi highlighted the legislation, which Democrats have been working on for months, at a news conference that included several new incoming members who made the good-government bill a part of their successful campaigns.

Democrats, who will be in the majority next year, will be in a position to pass the bill in the House, a feat Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) said she hopes will be completed in time for the annual commemoration of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march in March.

But the bill faces higher hurdles in the Senate, which is still controlled by Republicans and led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who has long fought against campaign finance laws that restrict the flow of money into politics.

President Donald Trump — who has adamantly refused to release his tax filings — may not be inclined to sign the bill as proposed, given its requirement that presidents must disclose several years of tax returns.

Pelosi said the bill was not merely symbolic, but a real attempt to pass legislation.

“Our best friend in the debate is the public,” Pelosi said. “There will be great support.”

Rep. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), who led drafting of the bill over the past several months, said the legislation is aimed at “folks across the political spectrum — it is independents, and Republicans.”

The bill would create significant and sometimes controversial changes to the election process, campaign financing and ethics laws.

It would require automatic voter registration, end gerrymandering and voter purges, upgrade voting systems, support paper ballots, and create a national strategy for voter system protections — steps that could be objected to by local officials who control the election process.

The legislation also would change the campaign finance system to broaden disclosure requirements to groups that weigh in on public and political issues as nonprofits that don’t have to reveal their donors — often called dark money groups. That inevitably would end up in court.

Sarbanes earlier this year said he would like to see small donor giving increased by adding the incentive that would require the federal government to provide a 6-to-1 match for every small donation to candidates who have agreed to forgo political action committee contributions.

And the bill would try to clean up Congress by toughening ethics laws for lawmakers, expanding conflict-of-interest measures, making it harder for them to become lobbyists, barring them from serving on for-profit boards, limiting their first-class travel and ending taxpayer-funded settlements for lawmakers’ misdeeds.

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