Interest groups lobby for and against Democrats’ HR1 ahead of Friday House vote

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On Friday, the House will vote on H.R. 1 or the “For the People Act,” a massive overhaul of transparency, campaign finance and lobbying rules. The 571-page bill, backed by Democrats, tackles a variety of issues from requiring “dark money” groups to release their donors and presidents to release their tax returns to tightening FARA registration to making Election Day a federal holiday. Like any major legislative effort, this one has attracted a number of groups to lobby on its behalf.

As the House prepares to vote on H.R. 1, a group of 71 predominantly liberal groups are working to convince lawmakers to support the measure. Notable names backing the legislation include End Citizens United Action Fund, the Center for American Progress and Planned Parenthood.

The package includes legislation to establish automatic voter registration, the creation of an independent redistricting commission, legislation restricting the use of straw companies for donations, and stricter rules on super PAC-candidate coordination, among many other new proposals.

Like most large-scale reform bills, interest groups have been involved with H.R. 1 since the beginning. Public Citizen assisted in writing parts of the legislation which dealt with ethics and conflict of interest issues. The Brennan Center for Justice helped develop aspects of the bill that address voting registration and small-donor public financing of elections.

End Citizens United is an organization which advocates for stricter campaign finance rules and a reversal of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. It boasts an impressive fundraising apparatus raising almost $33.1 million in the 2018 cycle and spending nearly $32.9 million from the FEC disclosed committee. A significant amount of that, more than $12.3 million, was used on independent expenditures in the cycle.

The group also contributed directly to a wide variety of Democratic candidates in the cycle. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) and unsuccessful candidate Gina Ortiz Jones (D-Texas) received $15,000 each from the organization — the most among House members and candidates. It also contributed heavily to the DCCC and the DSCC, handing each organization $150,000.

In a letter sent on March 4 to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and sponsor of the legislation Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), End Citizens United President Tiffany Muller called H.R. 1 a “once-in-a-generation government reform bill that will restore the promise of our democracy.” The letter notes that the organization and its four million members “enthusiastically support” the legislation.

The Center for American Progress, one of the leading liberal think tanks, is a regular campaign contributor and lobbying presence. In 2018, the group spent $90,000 on lobbying Capitol Hill. Individuals from the think tank contributed $309,415 during the midterm cycle. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and 2020 presidential candidate was the leading recipient with $10,800.

Another liberal interest group, People for the American Way, is pushing for the H.R. 1 legislation. People for the American Way includes a lobbying arm, which dropped $170,000 in 2018 focusing on bills like the Voter Rights Amendment Act and legislation introduced to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The group also has an independent expenditure wing and a separate PAC. During the 2018 cycle, the group spent $515,590 on independent expenditures, the biggest race it spent on was for the Texas Senate.

Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way, applauded the legislation. “HR1 takes dead aim at some of the most pressing issues threatening our democracy,” she said in a statement to The Center for Responsive Politics. “Our members have been working on these issues for years, and now they’re focused on pushing hard on Congress to pass HR1, with calls, emails, digital and on the ground organizing.”

Public Citizen, the liberal consumer rights group founded by Ralph Nader, is another outside source pressuring Congress to support the sweeping legislation. The organization maintains a fairly robust lobbying apparatus, spending $250,000 in 2018.

All 235 members of the House Democratic caucus have co-sponsored H.R. 1. Even members who receive a significant amount of campaign contributions from business PAC sources, like Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) who got more than $1 million in the recent cycle, have signed on.

While there is essentially universal Democratic support in the House, the measures have been staunchly opposed by Republicans and other interest groups. Opponents include the National Association of Business Political Action Committees (NABPAC), an organization that represents and lobbies for business PACs, the Conservative Action Project and FreedomWorks.

In January, NABPAC hosted a luncheon which looked to address H.R. 1. The event description notes that “many of the provisions, if enacted, could severely restrict the role of the business community and their PACs” and calls it “potentially onerous.”

FreedomWorks, a conservative and libertarian-leaning organization, has recently become a major lobbying player. In 2018, it spent the most it ever had on influence with almost $1.9 million.

Peter Vicenzi, press secretary for FreedomWorks, said in a statement to The Center for Responsive Politics, “The main issues we have with HR 1 are that it would have a chilling effect on political speech, take power from individual states in how they conduct elections and fund political campaigns with taxpayer dollars.”   

While the package of bills will likely pass the House on a party-line vote, there is essentially no chance of it passing the Senate or even being brought up for a vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote an op-ed in which he called the legislation the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.”

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