Independent citizen-led redistricting, Federal Election Commission overhaul will help fix broken political system
Ahead of tomorrow’s sixth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, U.S. Senator Tom Udall announced that he is introducing two bills to help restore voters’ voices in our democracy and follow through on the president’s call to fix our politics during last week’s State of the Union address. Udall is a champion for fair elections that are free of unlimited and undisclosed special interest money, and is the lead sponsor of a constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United decision.
The first bill — the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting (FAIR) Act — would take partisanship out of the often divisive congressional redistricting process by requiring states to establish independent, bipartisan redistricting commissions. Udall first introduced the bill in 2011 with former Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), and he cosponsored similar legislation as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The second bill — the Federal Election Administration Act — is a comprehensive plan to overhaul the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and replace it with a new agency empowered to crack down on campaign finance violations. The new Federal Election Administration would be set up to avoid the partisan gridlock that currently prevents the FEC from doing its job and enforcing our election laws. The lack of FEC action has compounded the disastrous impact of Citizens United since without FEC enforcement, Super PACs and campaigns are now pushing the envelope on all remaining campaign finance rules with near impunity. Udall is modeling the bill after a proposal previously introduced by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).
Former FEC Chairwoman and current Commissioner Ann M. Ravel has spoken strongly about the commission’s inability to enforce the law.
“Six years ago the U.S. Supreme Court left Congress powerless to enact commonsense campaign finance laws by ruling in favor of big-money special interests and corporations. Citizens United opened up the floodgates for dark money in politics, and I’ll continue to push for a constitutional amendment to overturn that bad decision,” Udall said. “But meanwhile, Congress must take further steps to restore integrity in our elections. Overhauling the ineffective Federal Election Commission and ending partisan redistricting both are important steps to get past the hyper-partisanship, uncontrolled special interest money, and perpetual gridlock that has frustrated voters and prevented elected leaders from getting things done for the American people.”
Udall continued: “Too often, congressional maps are drawn behind closed doors — by partisan lawmakers set on keeping incumbents in office. The president encouraged the nation to rally behind election reform in his State of the Union address last week, saying that ‘we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around.’ The FAIR Act will end partisan gerrymandering and give voters the opportunity to pick representatives based on their ideals and qualifications — not maintaining the status quo.”
Udall plans to reintroduce the FAIR Act in the coming weeks. In most states, state legislatures — working with their governor — are currently responsible for drawing federal congressional district boundaries. This results in gerrymandered districts drawn to keep the majority party in power. Udall’s bill would replace this system with independent, citizen-led redistricting commissions similar to the system voters approved in California.
“Although recent Supreme Court decisions have gutted many of our campaign finance laws, we still need a cop on the beat enforcing the rules that remain on the books,” Udall added. “That’s supposed to be the FEC’s job — but partisan divisions have rendered the commission virtually useless. As one of its own commissioners Ann M. Ravel put it, it’s ‘worse than dysfunctional.’ My friend Senator John McCain was one of the first to propose abolishing the FEC as we know it and creating a new, bipartisan agency empowered to crack down on election law violations. We need an agency that will ensure our elections remain fair and democratic.”
Udall’s Federal Election Administration Act would abolish the FEC and create a new agency composed of an odd number of members appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. A chair would lead the agency, and the remaining members would equally represent both political parties.
Leading election reform group Democracy 21 supports both bills.