By Congresswoman Julia Brownley
Originally published in the Ventura County Star
Let’s face it, our democracy is in danger. Between districts across the country being drawn by legislators with the sole purpose of preserving their jobs, the push to further restrict the ability of average citizens to even be able to vote, and the Supreme Court’s recent moves to weaken campaign finance laws, we are truly at a crossroad.
As a member of the Democracy Task Force, I have been leading the fight for redistricting reform in Congress. Last week, I authored legislation, along with my colleagues Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Alan Lowenthal to bring a solution to the dysfunction in Congress: citizen redistricting commissions.
California’s citizen-driven redistricting process proved that government of, by and for the people is not only possible, but its success makes it imperative. By requiring states to use independent citizen redistricting commissions, this bill will result in a more transparent election process and more accountable representation.
This March, I was humbled and inspired when I visited Selma with my colleagues to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, which was directly responsible for the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
While we have come a long way, it should be very clear to most Americans that it is essential we do everything we can to make voting easier. We simply cannot have a strong democracy if our citizens’ voices are not heard at the ballot box.
Yet, the Voting Rights Act has not been updated since the Supreme Court ruled in the 2012 Shelby decision that Section 5 was outdated and must be updated. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015 would address the court’s ruling, updating the Voting Rights Act and ensuring that the right to vote is not abridged. Congress needs to take it up for consideration.
Another crucial component to restoring democracy in our elections is to require full disclosure of how secret money is finding its way into our political campaigns. As the original author of the California Disclose Act, I am now a proud co-sponsor of the federal Disclose Act.
While donations made directly to candidates and parties are generally reported, special-interest groups and SuperPACs are pumping millions of dollars from secret donors into TV ads to influence elections. Citizens have the right to know who is spending money to influence their votes and elected officials.
Finally, we need to address the Supreme Court’s misguided decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon, which have compounded the influence of wealthy special interests and SuperPACs.
Congress and states must be able to set reasonable limits to avoid the corrupting influence of money in politics. That is why I have co-sponsored a constitutional amendment that would overturn these flawed Supreme Court decisions and help take the money out of politics.
Taking back our democracy from well-funded special interests and restoring the levers of democracy to the people will not be an easy task. But making these necessary reforms is essential to the health and well-being of our democracy.
In Congress, I stand ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to preserve our system of government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Julia Brownley, of Thousand Oaks, is a member of Congress representing the 26th district.