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Voters turned out to support democracy — President Biden must lead from here

Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images
MT. GILEAD, NC – MAY 17: A poll worker holds a sticker that reads, I Voted on May 17, 2022 in Mt. Gilead, North Carolina. North Carolina is one of several states holding midterm primary elections. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Democracy prevailed on Election Day, as voters across the country stood up to political extremism and violence, including in Arizona, California, Maine and Michigan where pro-democracy ballot measures succeeded. But despite what transpired in the recent elections, our work to strengthen democracy is far from done. The 2022 election cycle demonstrates that bold and transformative reforms are still desperately needed to make the promise of democracy real for every American.

Americans headed into midterm elections worried for the future of our democracy and chose to support leaders who respect our basic freedoms, instead of election deniers who have propped up former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” about the 2020 election and the Jan. 6, 2021 attempted insurrection. But voters across 21 states still face a total of 42 restrictive voting laws passed by extremist state legislators since the beginning of 2021 that in practice restrict equal access to the ballot box and disproportionately silence voters of color. Also, with an influx of political spending by large corporations, billionaires and secret money groups leading to a record amount of outside spending in this year’s midterms, Americans remain in the dark about who is trying to influence our elections.

Secret money in politics serves the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of the rest of us. The unchecked power of special interests erodes our rights and damages democracy, and blocks progress on the issues that matter the most to people. Secret money groups fund candidates and even back judicial nominees who oppose reproductive freedom and prevent us from addressing critical issues like access to health care and fighting climate change. Even the rally leading to the Jan. 6 riot was funded by secret money. Billionaires and corporations funding attacks on our freedoms and our democracy should not be allowed to hide from accountability.

In the face of these threats, inaction is not an option. The federal government has the power to strengthen our democratic systems and lessen the power of money in elections. Unfortunately, Congress has so far failed to pass meaningful legislation to address the problem. In September, Senate Republicans blocked a vote, or even debate, on the DISCLOSE Act, which would end secret money by requiring disclosure of political spending. This move also came on the heels of their rejection of the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act in January, which would have protected every American’s right to participate in free and fair elections by creating national standards for federal elections, amongst other key protections. 

So long as the Senate allows the archaic filibuster to stand in the way of this legislation, it is up to President Biden to take the lead with immediate, decisive actions to bolster our democracy’s defenses and proactively strengthen our country’s commitment to civil rights. There are several executive actions the Biden administration can take to protect and strengthen our elections; advance justice, equity and the truth of law; combat corruption; as well as help build an ethical and accountable government. 

Specifically, Biden could sign an executive order combating the proliferation of secret money in our elections by requiring campaign spending disclosure for federal contractors. Political action committees (PACs) associated with 10 of the largest federal contractors spent nearly $25 million in the 2020 election cycle, later to receive $213.8 billion in federal money that same year — and that’s just the spending that was disclosed. The American people deserve to know what influence companiescontracted by the governmentmay assert over politicians, and to be confident that federal contracts are awarded to the most capable contractors, not the ones with the deepest pockets.  

As Senate Republicans continue to block the passage of the DISCLOSE Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, this contractor disclosure executive order would be a step toward reform, as well as the first successful federal reaction to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 13 years. It would also clearly demonstrate the president’s commitment to a government by the people and for the people. As the president himself said in September, “Dark money erodes public trust. We need to protect public trust.”

Allison Pulliam and Christine Wood serve as co-directors of the Declaration for American Democracy coalition.

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