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Op-ed Placement

The HR 1 'Incumbent Protection Act' destroys free elections

BY Adam Brandon
01/31/2019
Originally Published in The Washington Examiner by Adam Brandon on 1/31/19.

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., represents arguably the most gerrymandered congressional district in the country, and he wants to keep it that way. His latest piece of legislation, H.R. 1 “For the People Act,” would force taxpayers to fund congressional campaigns.

Congress has a knack for naming legislation after its opposite intended effect. If you’ve spent more than a weekend in Washington, you know that a bill named “For the People” is likely a far cry from actually benefiting the public. The “Incumbent Protection Act” would be a more fitting name for this piece of legislation.

Forcing citizens to fund political campaigns would be an appalling violation of the First Amendment. The right to vote and the right to campaign for other people’s votes are both considered protected acts of free speech. Allowing the federal government to control the purse strings of political communication would rig the system to protect those in power.

H.R. 1 would force 501(c)(4) charity organizations to publicly release their donor lists. Americans have a reasonable right to privacy, and a violation of this magnitude would have a chilling effect on political speech. The conservative groups targeted and persecuted by Lois Lerner and the IRS would be the tip of the iceberg compared to what would come next.

House Democrats should brush up on their history if they believe exposing the names of donors will lead to free elections. It would do the opposite. This was already decided in NAACP v. Alabama, in which the Supreme Court ruled the state of Alabama could not make public the membership rolls of the NAACP.

Without this landmark decision, thousands of African-Americans would have been made even more vulnerable to widespread voter intimidation from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. It’s hard to believe that Democrats are now trying to circumvent this ruling with H.R. 1, which would once again expose people to dangerous harassment simply by association.

NAACP v. Alabama is not the only Supreme Court ruling that H.R. 1 would overturn. The Citizens United v. FEC decision has long been in the crosshairs of Democrats, who want to restrict political speech for 501(c)(4)s and other associations.

H.R. 1 would prohibit a majority of organizations, including many nonprofit groups, with as few as one foreign shareholder from contributing to a candidate or super PAC.

Suppression of political speech is still very real, and H.R. 1 will only exacerbate it. This goes beyond big-dollar backers who give large amounts of money to candidates on both sides of the aisle. H.R. 1 discourages everyday people from making political contributions to the campaigns of their choice.

This directly harms the “free and fair election” process that H.R. 1 claims to promote. It leads to a reduced willingness for people to engage in civil society for fear of reprisal for their political beliefs.

Free speech aside, H.R. 1 would also be a massive federal power grab. It seeks to mandate federal control over the election processes of individual states. Behind the facade of “fair elections,” the bill goes completely against the concept of federalism in an attempt to implement single-party, establishment rule.

H.R. 1 is not for the people; it’s an opportunity for Democrats to get back to their party machine roots. True to form, they only want free and fair elections so long as they get to decide what “free and fair” really means.

Under the guise of a more open electoral process, H.R. 1 rigs the game in favor of elected officials already in office and strives to censor the political speech of individuals and associations. Those who cherish the First Amendment should oppose this bill at every turn.