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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

A Rushed and Partisan Product

March 11, 2019
Weekly Columns

Last week, House Democrats brought to the floor an enormously misguided piece of legislation that would limit free speech, weaken election security and redirect hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund political campaigns. While the Democrats mistakenly called their hallmark H.R. 1 bill the “For the People Act,” a closer review and analysis of its content reveals that the legislation would be more aptly named “For the Politicians Act” or the “Welfare for Politicians Act.”

When H.R. 1 was first introduced, Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed it would restore faith in government. Unfortunately, the legislation’s agenda is clearly one-sided—seeking to preserve and expand the power of the Democratic party and irresponsibly using taxpayer dollars to achieve that partisan goal. Filled with mandates that disrupt the constitutional role of states and egregious provisions that limit free speech, H.R. 1 is a rushed and sloppy attempt to rewrite voting laws, election laws and campaign finance laws to get more Democrats elected. Despite claims to the contrary, it is not a bill to ensure more American citizens exercise their right to vote or participate in making their views heard.

While some states are clearly more successful in conducting their own elections, it is alarming that Democrats think it’s a good idea to force the 50 separate and unique states to operate under the same guidelines. As a former Secretary of State for Oklahoma, I can’t imagine that any Secretary of State or Director of Elections would support such federalization.

In fact, while the legislation was under consideration in the House Rules Committee before floor debate, I received a letter of concern from Paul Ziriax, Secretary of Oklahoma’s State Election Board. In the letter, he described in detail how the mandates proposed in H.R. 1 would negatively impact Oklahoma’s highly successful and widely recognized election system. For Oklahoma, where the system already works well, implementing and complying with the proposed mandates would unnecessarily increase the cost of elections statewide and countywide. Not to mention, adapting to the standards would undoubtedly damage the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of our state’s existing system.

Apart from its imposition on the role of states in elections, H.R. 1 represents the largest and most damaging threat to free speech seen in recent years. First, it calls for a taxpayer-financed piggy bank that would operate like an ATM for campaigns participating in a to-be-created program that would match small-dollar campaign contributions six to one. Taxpayers would have no say in who gets those dollars, meaning their hard-earned money could go to fund candidates and politicians with whom they disagree. 

Also undermining the First Amendment, H.R. 1 would criminalize actions that are currently viewed appropriate as advocacy for candidates. Even the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) voiced concern with the legislation. In a 13-page letter sent to the House Rules Committee, the ACLU cautioned, “There are also provisions that unconstitutionally impinge on the free speech rights of American citizens and public interest organizations. They will have the effect of harming our public discourse by silencing necessary voices that would otherwise speak out about the public issues of the day.”

When the massive bill was introduced, it was referred to 10 separate House committees holding jurisdiction. But instead of doing the necessary work in each of those committees to come up with a sound product, only the Committee on House Administration held a markup on the bill before Democratic leadership scheduled it for floor consideration. It’s no wonder the bill is so full of errors and unconstitutional issues.

To be clear, I strongly support encouraging American citizens to exercise their right to vote and ensuring access is not denied to lawful voters. But the Democrats’ overhaul would negatively alter the political landscape of the greatest republic and democracy in the history of the world. Instead of fixing actual problems, H.R. 1 reveals a brazen attempt by Democrats to rig the system on the taxpayer dime.