Removing the Influence of Money from Elections
The rising cost of political campaigns is a serious cause for concern in the United States, as some qualified candidates are discouraged from running for office because they do not have the financial means to do so. Furthermore, the exorbitant cost of campaigns has increased the role of political action committees, interest groups, and political parties through unregulated soft money donations. We must ensure that national policy decisions are based on the power of ideas and not the power of money.
In order to improve the way federal elections are financed in the United States, I was an original cosponsor of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act. The measure, which became law in 2002, prohibits unregulated "soft money" contributions to national parties for federal candidate elections, establishes stricter guidelines for interest groups that run issue advertisements before an election, and provides the Federal Election Commission (FEC) with greater authority to enforce campaign finance laws. Since then, I have fought efforts to close other loopholes in campaign finance law and crack down on the influence of lobbyists in shaping Congress's legislative agenda.
As part of its New Direction agenda, Congress passed a sweeping ethics reform package intended to curtail the influence of lobbyists in the legislative process. I was proud to support the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, which imposes new disclosure requirements on lobbyists who raise funds for lawmakers, prevents lawmakers from accepting gifts and travel from lobbyists, and significantly increases penalties for violations of the rules. This legislation will change the way business in Washington is done and make our government more transparent and accountable to the public.
Protecting Voting for All Citizens
Maintaining confidence in our voting system is the cornerstone of a strong democracy. Ever since my tenure as Rhode Island's Secretary of State, I have made it a priority to ensure that our elections are accurate, fair, and accessible to all. After the contested election of 2000, I fought in Congress to improve our nation's voting system. I was an original cosponsor of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a significant election reform measure that became law in 2002. In addition to establishing national standards for voting equipment and providing funding for election officials to purchase machine upgrades, HAVA included language that I advocated guaranteeing one fully accessible voting machine in each polling place.
Since HAVA became law, concerns have been raised about the accuracy of direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, which allow voters to make their selections on touch screens or via other methods and which tally the votes electronically. While DRE machines have provided enhanced access to voters with disabilities and people with limited English proficiency, critics have noted that some machines lack the ability to provide a voter-verified paper trail to establish a record of voter intent. As an original cosponsor of the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, which would require election equipment to provide voter-verified paper trails, I have worked to promote reforms that protect the integrity of our elections while maintaining accessibility of voting equipment to people with special needs.
Additionally, I strongly supported efforts to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, originally enacted in 1965 to protect the voting rights of all Americans by forbidding states from using tests of any kind to determine eligibility to vote, and by requiring states to obtain federal approval before enacting any election laws that may have a discriminatory effect. I was a cosponsor of H.R. 9, the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act, which renewed expiring provisions of the VRA for an additional 25 years. I proudly voted for H.R. 9 when it was considered in the House of Representatives, and it became law in July 2006.