To win on anti-corruption, Democrats need to change the game plan

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The newly seated U.S. House of Representatives made a huge mark of progress for our battle to unrig America’s corrupt political system with the introduction of H.R. 1. It’s the most important proposal in a generation, a sweeping anti-corruption policy that would fundamentally fix what’s broken in Washington. However, it is doomed to fail because Democrats seem more focused on partisan politics than actually passing this landmark legislation.

The truth is this. H.R. 1 will not pass without Republican support. It’s simple math, and every member of Congress knows it. Yet, H.R. 1 was introduced with no Republican co-sponsors — despite the fact that some colleagues across the aisle are already champions of reform. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis) spoke at Unrig the System Summit and has backed numerous reform proposals, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) wrote a book titled “Drain the Swamp” and was elected on the idea before Trump ever starting talking about it. Gallagher and Buck are both part of the Congressional Reformers Caucus with many other Republicans and Democrats.

{mosads}In their rollout of the bill, the Democrats lambast “Republican-controlled Washington” as the root of America’s problems. That’s no way to win votes. Rather than pursuing the path most likely to get the law passed, Democrats are wielding voting rights, anti-gerrymandering and anti-corruption as political pawns in a partisan game, moving the parties even further apart on an issue nearly every American agrees on.

While it’s true that Republican leadership (though, importantly, not conservative voters) has been terrible on these issues, Americans see near-daily corruption scandals from politicians on both sides of the aisle. Further, Democrats have a long and sordid history of talking a big anti-corruption game, but failing to deliver when they actually have the power to do it. The first two years of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s presidencies had 100 percent Democratic control of Congress, and they didn’t deliver meaningful reform — despite tough talk on the campaign trail.

The proposed components of H.R. 1 include ending gerrymandering so voters choose their politicians not the other way around; making it easier, not harder to vote; ending the dominance of big money in politics; and ensuring that public officials actually work in the best interest of the public. This Anti-Corruption Act is too important for partisan bickering. The only path to victory is for liberals and conservatives to put country over party and unite to unrig the system.

Look at the criminal justice reform that passed at the end of 2018. With support from Republicans, Democrats, and the president, it showed that sweeping bipartisan reforms can happen with this Congress. It took an eclectic mix of strange bedfellows, including Kim Kardashian West and her husband Kanye, the Koch brothers, Van Jones, Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, the American Civil Liberties Union, Tea Party conservatives, and senators from both ends of the political spectrum such as Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Problem-solving that goes beyond partisanship ultimately won out.

And this same strategy worked to pass an unprecedented wave of reform in cities and states  last year, when conservatives united with progressives to pass 23 state and local anti-corruption measures in 2018.

House Democrats need to learn from the ‘laboratories of democracy,’ heed this strategy and show they can rise above politics as usual. Americans are sick of Washington being so mired in right vs. left that they’ve forgotten about right vs. wrong. House Democrats should embrace a strategy that works and try to find Republican co-sponsors for H.R. 1. If they don’t, H.R. 1 will be little more than a symbolic gesture, albeit an important one.

Meanwhile, We The People will follow in the footsteps of the movements that came before us and keep fighting to pass anti-corruption laws that unrig the system and fix Congress state by state.

Joshua Graham Lynn is the co-founder and managing director of RepresentUs, the nation’s largest left-right anti-corruption group. Since 2012, RepresentUs has been calling on Congress to push federal anti-corruption reform.  @joshuaglynn on Twitter.

Tags Barack Obama Bill Clinton Ivanka Trump Jared Kushner Ken Buck Kirsten Gillibrand Mike Gallagher Ted Cruz

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