Campaigns and Elections

Our democracy is intended to give everyone a voice in the process. Unfortunately, a series of recent Supreme Court cases have allowed wealthy donors and special interests to spend millions of dollars—often without disclosure—in an effort to drown out the voices of average Americans. As political campaign costs continue to skyrocket, many Members of Congress feel pressured to spend too much time raising money and not enough time legislating. At the same time, challengers who lack name recognition struggle to raise the funds it takes to compete.

In addition to the deluge of spending in recent years, we have witnessed an assault on the right to vote. We need to protect and preserve this fundamental right, while also safeguarding our democratic process with common-sense limits on how much corporations and wealthy, special interest donors can spend in our elections.

Since the Supreme Court issued its 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, wealthy, well-connected campaign donors and special interests have unleashed a flood of cash in an effort to sway federal, state, and local elections across our nation. I firmly believe that every voice should be heard in our country, and every perspective should have a seat at the nation’s policymaking table. However, Citizens United and its progeny have created a system that allows a privileged group of deep-pocketed donors and corporate titans to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens in an effort to buy and control every seat at that table. I will continue my efforts to pass a Constitutional amendment to fully protect and restore the First Amendment and ensure that elections are a contest of the best ideas—not just the ideas of multi-millionaires.

I have also worked to enact legislation that will reform the ways in which we finance elections. I was an original cosponsor of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill in the Senate in every Congress until it passed in 2002. I have continued my efforts to update the campaign finance system through my Fair Elections Now Act, which would restore public confidence in the election process by allowing qualified candidates to receive grants, matching funds, and vouchers from the Fair Elections Fund, instead of asking for money from large donors and special interests. In return, participating candidates would voluntarily agree to limit their campaign spending to amounts raised from small dollar donors and the amounts provided by the Fair Elections Fund. This alternative to traditional privately financed campaigns would free candidates from the money chase that has tainted public perceptions of elected officials and fostered abuses that undermine our democracy. And it would allow candidates to put their focus where it belongs—in better serving the needs of all the people, not just a wealthy few.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was a monumental achievement. The VRA ensured that the fundamental right to vote would never be canceled out by clever schemes devised to keep certain people from voting. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court gutted the VRA with a 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder by invalidating the VRA’s formula for identifying the jurisdictions that must pre-clear any changes to voting laws with the Department of Justice. After the Shelby County decision, several state legislatures pushed through discriminatory and onerous restrictions on voting, including cuts to early voting, restrictions on registration, and the implementation of strict voter identification laws.

As Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, I held a series of hearings that examined the impact of these new state voting laws. During these hearings, we received ample testimony documented that restrictive voting laws have a disproportionate impact on lower-income, minority, youth, and elderly voters. As a result, I worked with my colleagues to respond to Shelby County and restore the VRA through the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), which would update the coverage formula struck down by the Supreme Court. I will continue my efforts to ensure that the fundamental right to vote of every American is protected.