Congress

K Street mounts offensive to HR 1

McConnell, Trump join in opposition

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., concludes a news conference after the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The nation’s business and lobbying interests began publicly mobilizing Tuesday in a coordinated attack against House Democrats’ signature campaign finance, lobbying, ethics and voting overhaul, which the full chamber plans to vote on Friday morning.

More than 300 groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the top spending organization on federal lobbying — and numerous other state, federal and conservative-leaning organizations wrote to lawmakers attacking the bill for “pushing certain voices, representing large segments of the electorate and our economy, out of the political process altogether.”

The letter came days after one of the bill’s chief foes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has crusaded against the measure, urged outside allies in a Capitol Hill meeting to heighten their opposition — even though the Kentucky Republican has already said he will not bring the measure for a vote in his chamber.

And the White House, adding more weight to the onslaught, issued a veto threat — even though McConnell pledged to block even a vote on the measure. The White House Statement of Administration Policy objected to the bill on several grounds including this one: “H.R. 1 would prohibit commonsense efforts to clean up voting-rolls to limit opportunities for voting fraud. The bill would also require States to adopt online registration, same-day registration, and automatic voter registration, thus imposing a one-size-fits-all standard for weighing the competing values of voter access and voting integrity.”

The vote in the House this week is widely considered the opening act in what may become a multiyear debate and a major messaging point in the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns. Opponents of the measure say they’re taking this fight seriously because if Democrats win control of  the Senate and White House, the ideas behind HR 1 would likely be a top order of business.

Every House Democrat has co-sponsored the legislation, and it is expected to pass along party lines. No House Republicans have endorsed the bill and many have branded it a political stunt, but the GOP is whipping against it to quash the slim chance that even one or two of its members will vote with Democrats.

The Chamber of Commerce will rate lawmakers on how they vote on the bill, the group said in a notice to House members. But it won’t be the only group doing so.

A coalition of liberal-leaning and campaign overhaul groups have also stepped up their outreach on Capitol Hill, and the group End Citizens United, which supports the overhaul, said that for the first time, it, too, will score lawmakers on how they vote.

“Americans want their politicians to fight for a democracy that’s open, accountable, and responsive to their needs, and we believe the For the People Act will bring transformational change to our political system to do just that,” the group’s Tiffany Muller wrote in a letter this week to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the bill’s chief author, John Sarbanes of Maryland.

In a similar letter, Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 wrote to lawmakers in support of the bill: “H.R.1 represents the beginning of a battle to revitalize our democracy that will be fought in Congress for as long as it takes to restore the integrity and health of our democracy.”

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday, voting 9 to 4 along party lines, set up the parameters for floor debate on the measure, allowing for consideration of 72 amendments.

Broad overhaul package

The 622-page overhaul seeks to remake the nation’s voting, campaign finance and lobbying laws. It would impose new requirements on states to offer early voting and online and same-day voter registration. It would establish new ethical standards for executive branch officials and Supreme Court justices. The measure would establish an optional 6-to-1 public matching system for small donations in congressional elections.

In addition, the package would set new guidelines for the types of behind-the-scenes advising that would require someone to register as a federal lobbyist and would give new investigative authority to the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act unit, which monitors foreign lobbying campaigns in the United States.

The overhaul would also give more power to the Office of Government Ethics and tighten ethical standards that apply to officials in the executive branch, including presidents and vice presidents.

And it would require new disclosures for spending on political messaging — something the business groups said was atop their concerns in the bill.

If enacted, the measure would “silence” the business community and trade associations in the political process, said Neil Bradley, the chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, during a news call with reporters Tuesday.

The chamber and other groups said they oppose provisions to revamp the Federal Election Commission from a six-member agency with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats to a five-member panel whose chairman or chairwoman would have new authority to launch enforcement actions.

The bill would require organizations such as the chamber that engage in certain types of political expenditures — including ads that promote, attack, support or oppose candidates or elected officials — totaling at least $10,000 to then disclose its own donors who give at least $10,000.

Bradley said it would force advocacy groups that are active in politics to choose whether to continue to engage in such efforts, or curb that to avoid disclosing their donors.

The business letter stated that “the $10,000 donor threshold appears designed to target business organizations while largely sparing labor organizations from disclosure of their funding sources, which are typically union dues that are far less than $10,000.”

Other groups that signed the letter include industry associations such as Airlines for America, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, American Bankers Association, American Petroleum Institute, American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, Motorcycle Industry Council, National Association of Manufacturers, National Black Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Industry Leaders Association as well as the anti-abortion group March for Life Action.

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