When I ran for Congress, I promised the people of the Lowcountry I would work for them, not special interests and big donors. It’s why I made a promise — which I have kept — to not accept a single dime from special interests or PACs. Once elected, I worked with my colleagues to do just that by co-sponsoring and helping pass the For the People Act (H.R. 1), once-in-a-generation anti-corruption and democracy reform legislation.
H.R. 1 tackles the biggest problems facing our democracy. It shines a light on the dark money that corrupts our politics, protects and expands the fundamental right to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, and restores ethics and accountability in the federal government to ensure that we are working for the interests of the American people, rather than wealthy donors and lobbyists.
The ability to meaningfully participate in our democracy is also a racial justice issue. Voting is one of our most important civil rights, but increasingly, the right to vote has been under attack. Between 2012 and 2016, majority-minority urban counties saw an average loss of seven polling stations and 200 poll workers. Between the Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013 and 2018, 33 million voters were removed from voting rolls across the country. That’s another reason I’ve championed H.R. 1. It takes critical steps to remove barriers to the ballot box and combat voter suppression to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard in our democracy.
This month marks one year since we passed H.R. 1. I wish we could celebrate this anniversary by highlighting all of the ways that the For the People Act has improved the lives of Americans across the country. Yet, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, this bill has not been brought to the Senate floor.
Sen. McConnell has placed the For the People Act in his “legislative graveyard” along with hundreds of other bills passed by the House, including overwhelmingly popular and bipartisan measures that would lower the cost of prescription drugs, establish universal background checks and close the Charleston loophole, and — particularly important to me and the people of the Lowcountry — ban offshore drilling. Sen. McConnell’s obstruction has real-world consequences for the lives of South Carolinians.
Last year, I introduced the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act (H.R. 1941), bipartisan legislation that would permanently ban offshore drilling along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. South Carolina needs this legislation to protect our shorelines, our economy, and our way of life. In the Lowcountry, preserving our pristine coasts from being ravaged by offshore drilling is not a partisan issue, it is a common sense one.
I fought hard with my colleagues to pass this bill, and we got it passed in the House. But Sen. McConnell has sided with the big oil and gas industry — some of his biggest campaign donors — and has refused to bring the bill to the floor.
Sen. McConnell and his GOP colleagues are preventing this vitally important environmental legislation because they care more about ensuring big money keeps flowing in from the energy industry. Indeed, a recent study shows that the more often members of Congress vote against pro-environment legislation, the more campaign donations they receive from the oil and gas industry. Without H.R. 1, too many lawmakers will continue to put Big Oil’s interests ahead of the public interest.
H.R. 1 reforms our campaign finance system by addressing dark money and strengthening oversight of super PACs. H.R. 1 also fortifies federal ethics rules by closing loopholes for lobbyists, making our politics more transparent, and increasing accountability for elected officials in order to prevent political corruption and make sure the American people are put first. And H.R. 1 ensures fair, free, and accessible elections by removing barriers to the ballot box and establishing independent redistricting commissions to ensure all Americans’ voices can be heard in our democracy.
If we want to protect our shorelines from destructive offshore drilling, we need to pass H.R. 1. If we want to make progress on lowering prescription drug prices, and fighting gun violence and climate change, we need to pass H.R. 1. If we want to tackle racial inequality, we need to pass H.R. 1. And if we want to make sure that our government is working for the people, not special interests and big corporations, we need to pass H.R. 1.
On the one-year anniversary of its passage, Sen. McConnell needs to stop blocking this critical legislation and bring H.R. 1 to the Senate floor for a vote.
Joe Cunningham represents South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.