Renewing our republic: Putting the priorities of everyday people ahead of special interests
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Better jobs, better wages and a better future. That’s what Democrats want for the American people. We want an economy that works for the middle class and lifts up those who are struggling to get there. A better deal for every American willing to work hard and play by the rules.

But that can only happen if we wrest power from special interests and make government more accountable to the people.

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Everyone knows that lobbyists and big-money donors have too much influence in Washington. As a result, economic policy is overly focused on boosting the stock market and maximizing corporate earnings, while the take home pay of most Americans continues to stagnate and retirement benefits are cut. In service to their deep-pocketed patrons, Republican leaders in Congress are now gearing up to give more tax breaks to the wealthy and to corporations – even if that means jeopardizing support for afterschool initiatives and Pell Grants, or key programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Talk to everyday citizens. They want a better deal. They just don’t believe that a political system built on money and inside connections can ever deliver on that promise.

We agree.

That is why congressional Democrats, led by the Democracy Reform Task Forcehave launched the By the People Project – to enlist everyday Americans in reforming our democracy to serve the many, not the money.

It’s time to fix our broken campaign finance system once and for all. How do we do it? Let’s follow the example of states and cities across the country that are embracing citizen-owned elections. The Government By the People Act will do just that by building a small-donor matching system to fund Congressional elections. In addition, we can rein in the big money crowd with the Disclose Act, which would uncover secret money in our politics, and with the Democracy for All Amendment, which will reverse the effects of the Citizens United decision. And along the way, let’s overhaul the dysfunctional Federal Elections Commission so that it works again for the people. 

Next, we need to strengthen our nation’s ethics laws so that those elected to serve our country remain accountable to the American people. Trust in government depends on public officials being open, honest and transparent. Obviously, we cannot rely on our current president to encourage ethical conduct by the force of his example. That’s a reason to strengthen the Office of Government Ethics so it can enforce such conduct. And let’s insist on what a majority of Americans are demanding – that the president disclose his tax returns and abide by conflict-of-interest rules. That’s the only way the public can be confident that the president is looking out for them and not for himself.

Finally, let’s make it easier to vote in America and ensure that every vote counts. The Voter Empowerment Act will simplify the registration process, increase training for poll staff and establish national standards for voting machines. The Automatic Voter Registration Act will expand access to the ballot box for eligible voters. The National Redistricting Reform Act will end partisan gerrymandering by requiring states to use independent commissions to draw district lines. And the Voting Rights Advancement Act will protect access to the ballot box for historically marginalized communities.

These are just some key highlights of the By the People Project. We are excited that Americans of all stripes are joining the conversation about how to reform our democracy. With their input and energy, we can strengthen our democratic institutions and usher in a new era of public policy that puts the priorities of everyday people ahead of special interests. Let’s fix the way Washington works. Let’s ensure that each and every American can have his or her voice heard. And let’s give Americans the Better Deal they deserve.

David Cicilline is Co-Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC) in the House of Representatives and represents Rhode Island’s 1st District. John Sarbanes is the Chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force in the House of Representatives and represents Maryland’s 3rd District.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.