Protecting Our Democracy - John Hickenlooper for U.S. Senate

Protecting Our Democracy

We are living in a moment unlike any other. Widespread protests against the murder of Black Americans are calling attention to the legacy of institutional racism and police brutality in this country. COVID-19 is sweeping the globe, shuttering our economy and causing levels of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. And we have a president who attempts to influence judicial proceedings, willfully ignores foreign interference in U.S. elections, and enriches himself at public expense. The status quo is no longer working for most Americans — if it ever did.

It’s clear that decades of weakening campaign finance laws have made our government broken and dysfunctional. Dark money floods our elections, influencing the outcome of races up and down the ballot. Americans’ trust in their government is at an all-time low, and who could blame us for feeling that way? Washington politicians stand by while corporate money lines their pockets and nothing gets done. Meanwhile voters, striving for change, wait for hours to cast their ballot, submitting to tactics of modern-day voter suppression that inordinately impact communities of color. This cannot and must not be allowed to stand.

Congress must find the political will that we had in Colorado to make our election system reflect our values. When I was Governor, I worked with the legislature to make sure every eligible registered voter in Colorado gets a mail-in ballot. We also changed the rules so voters can register to vote online, and at any time — even on Election Day. These policies strengthen our democracy and help hold elected officials accountable. I pledge to do what bought-off politicians won’t: get money out of politics, make voting easy, safe, and fair, and hold government accountable.

When I get to the Senate, one of my first priorities will be working to pass the For The People Act, the most sweeping campaign finance, voting rights, and ethics reforms since Watergate. The For the People Act (H.R.1, S.949) proposes to reform money in politics by bolstering public financing and donor disclosure provisions. It strengthens our elections by addressing regulatory barriers to voting and creating a system of automatic voter registration. And it bolsters accountability by closing lobbying loopholes and requiring greater transparency from government officials. This bill was passed in the House with unanimous Democratic support and has been cosponsored in the Senate by every Democratic Senator, but has been blocked by Mitch McConnell and Cory Gardner for over a year. I support swift action on the For the People Act to curb the influence of special interests in our government and make it easier for all eligible voters to have a say in our democracy. 

This is a moment where making our voices heard is vital. For too long, the powerful in this country have tipped the scales of political interests to get ahead at the expense of working Americans. This injustice needs to end. The current social upheaval is a clarion call; a time to set new, higher standards for our democracy; a time to put power back in the hands of people. If elected, I commit to fight for reforms that will finally make our government work for all citizens.

Get Money Out of Politics

  • Refuse Corporate PAC Money — Support from corporate PACs is one of the many ways that politicians become beholden to special interests once they are elected to office. Unlike Senator Gardner, who has taken over $5.4 million from corporate PACs, I have pledged not to accept any corporate PAC money throughout this campaign and when I am in office. I am committed to putting power back in the hands of people, not special interests.
  • Overturn Citizens United — The 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC opened the door to dark money and corporate influence that have corrupted our institutions. But corporations are not people, plain and simple.In the Senate, I will fight to overturn Citizens United by passing the Democracy For All constitutional amendment to stop the flood of money to Washington. I am proud that my commitment to this effort has earned the endorsement of End Citizens United, a leading campaign finance reform organization, and look forward to working together to get money out of politics.
  • Increase Donor Transparency — Dark money groups have devoted nearly $1 billion to influence U.S. elections over the last decade. Instead of reducing college debt or expanding health care coverage, those dollars have corroded the integrity of our democracy. We desperately need greater transparency in election spending. I support the DISCLOSE Act, which requires outside groups to report campaign contributions greater than $10,000; the Real Time Transparency Act, which necessitates political campaigns and committees to disclose donor information to the FEC for donations over $1,000 within 48 hours; and the End Dark Money Act to close the “social welfare” loophole that hides the names of big donors to dark money groups. By reducing anonymity in our campaign finance system, we can shine a light on dark money and curb its influence in our elections.

Make Voting Easy, Safe, and Fair

  • Restore the Full Power of the Voting Rights Act — The U.S. has a long and shameful legacy of suppressing the vote of Americans of color. The 1965 Voting Rights Act was landmark legislation that reduced some of those barriers and held states accountable for racist efforts to limit voting access. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions in the law, a regressive decision that undoes many hard-fought safeguards for communities of color. While the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) passed the House with bipartisan support last year, it has been held up in McConnell’s Senate. I support passing the VRAA to reinstate these core civil rights protections.
  • Protect The Right to Vote for All Americans — From a President who baselessly attacks vote-by-mail, to the passage of discriminatory voter ID laws across the country, Republican voter suppression efforts are alive and well. The implications — hours-long lines, restrictive early voting, voters being deregistered without their consent, and misallocation of polling resources — disenfranchise all voters and disproportionately impact communities of color. Voting is every citizen’s fundamental right in a democracy. Bills such as the For the People Act will restore core protections to make it easier for all Americans to access this right.
  • Expand Vote-By-Mail Options Nationwide — Colorado has been largely voting from home for seven years, with lower costs and higher turnout. In our state, no one has to miss work or find childcare simply to exercise their right to vote. Risk-limiting audits, a centralized signature database, and paper ballots keep it secure. Our experience with voting from home has laid the groundwork for just this moment, when mail-in voting options across the country could be vital to protecting Americans’ health — and the health of our democracy. I support giving states the resources they need to expand vote-by-mail programs, as well as bolstering the USPS so it can handle a surge of ballots this November. The House has taken action by passing $4 billion in election funding, but those proposals were killed in McConnell’s and Gardner’s Senate.
  • Expand Voter Registration — I believe that voting should be as convenient as possible. That is why, as Governor, I established same-day voter registration and expanded early registration in Colorado and will fight to enact the same policies across the U.S. I also support doing nationally what we’ve done in Colorado by expanding early voting and restoring voting rights for those who have served time in prison and are reentering civic life. Finally, we must pass legislation to prevent the widespread purging of voter rolls, which, from 2010 to 2018, had disenfranchised over 1 million voters in Georgia elections and disproportionately targeted individuals of color.
  • End Partisan Gerrymandering — In 2018, Colorado voters approved amendments to create an independent redistricting commission to end partisan gerrymandering. Our state could become a model for the nation when districts are redrawn after the 2020 census. In the meantime, I support Senator Michael Bennet’s Fair Maps Act, which prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the national level and provides guidance on redrawing and contesting maps. Voters should pick their elected officials, not the other way around.
  • Protect Our Elections From Foreign Meddling — According to a U.S. Senate investigation, Russian hackers targeted the election systems of all 50 states in 2016. The importance of securing our elections against any tampering — foreign or domestic — cannot be overstated. This means modernizing our voting machines, requiring paper ballots, conducting routine risk assessments and post-election audits, and adequately funding our election systems, to name a few. Many of these protections were included in the SAFE Act, which passed the House nearly a year ago but has yet to be taken up in Sen. McConnell’s and Gardner’s Senate. We know what works to secure our elections, now it is time to act on it.
  • Strengthen Election Cybersecurity — As Governor, I established the National Cybersecurity Center, so I know what it takes to enact strong online protections. I support bolstering the defense of our voting systems by investing in cybersecurity efforts to secure voter registration databases, voting machines, reporting websites, and other software vulnerable to meddling. 
  • Implement Safeguards Against Foreign Influence — Election hackers pose a very real risk, but why break in when the front door is unlocked? There are numerous loopholes that permit foreign actors to legally influence the outcome of our elections. I support passing the SHIELD Act, which would help prevent foreign actors from spending in U.S. elections, require reporting on offers of foreign assistance, and boost transparency in online advertisements.
  • Address Disinformation Campaigns, Increase Transparency — Social media platforms were weaponized by Russia to sow misinformation and influence the outcome of the 2016 election. There is little doubt they will try to do the same this fall, yet the Senate has shown no willingness to act on legislation like the Honest Ads Act, which would help address this. As Senator, I would advocate for holding online advertisements to the same standard as television and radio ads, including transparency in where the money comes from and consequences for spreading disinformation.  

Reduce Corporate Influence & Strengthen Government Oversight

  • Ban Congress from Lobbying —  446 former members of Congress currently work as lobbyists. We will never release the stranglehold of corporations on Washington until we close this revolving door. If elected, I promise the voters of Colorado I will not treat my service on Capitol Hill as a job interview with special interests. I pledge to never lobby after the U.S. Senate, and I will work to hold all members of Congress to the same standard.  
  • Limit Conflicts of Interest — It is legal for members of the House of Representatives to serve on corporate boards, and individuals in both chambers can trade stocks in industries they regulate. The potential for conflicts of interest is breathtaking. If elected, I support bills that would put an end to these activities. I put my earnings from the Wynkoop in a blind trust upon my mayoral election in 2003, and I pledge to leave it there for the entirety of my career in elected service. I believe Members of Congress should always put the needs of the country before those of the publicly-traded companies to which they are financially connected. It should no longer be the other way around.
  • Pass ‘For Cause’ Protections for Inspectors General — Congress created Inspectors General (IGs) to protect taxpayer dollars from departmental waste, fraud, and abuse. President Trump has politicized IGs by firing those with whom he disagrees. Congress has an obligation to protect every IG against undue interference from the powers he or she investigates. The current law allows the president to remove watchdogs without cause. I will push to pass “for-cause” protections in the Senate, which would require the president to justify the removal of an IG under a strict set of criteria such as criminal activity or negligence. 
  • Restructure the FEC — The FEC has a mandate to prevent corruption in campaign spending. So it is a problem that partisan squabbling in Congress has divided and undermined the agency. I support common sense reforms such as reducing the number of commissioners from six to five to prevent gridlock in decision making — with one nonpartisan appointee. Congress should also enforce term limits and strive to increase diversity in the body.
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