Over the course of nearly a year on the campaign trail, I heard voters time and again express deep-seated frustration and cynicism with the way Washington works. What was holding up common-sense gun safety measures? Why do prescription drugs cost so much? Why are working families struggling to pay the mortgage, put their kids through school, and save for retirement? The American people rightly view Washington as perpetuating a rigged system that tilts for special interests over families. It’s not surprising that voters’ approval of Congress stands at an abysmal 21 percent. It’s also not surprising that public trust in government remains at an all-time low, at a historic 18 percent. Before the 116th Congress can tackle the many problems facing working families, we need to fix our system and restore faith in democracy.
I know these challenges are not new. More than 20 years ago, I was a staffer for then-congressman Marty Meehan. Marty joined Senator John McCain and others in introducing and ultimately passing the bicameral Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, (commonly referred to as Shays-Meehan or McCain-Feingold,) which banned unlimited political expenditures and is still considered the most significant campaign finance system reform. Sadly, opponents of good government, and Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, have eroded those reforms, taking power away from the American people and handing it over to wealthy donors and special interests.
As part of the largest Democratic freshman class elected to the House since Watergate, this Congress — and particularly my freshmen colleagues — have a mandate to fix problems in our political system, to unrig our democracy, to unmoor the entrenched special interests in Washington, and to usher in a new standard of ethics and integrity that ensures that public servants serve the public, not line their own pockets.
My first act as a member of Congress will be to cosponsor H.R. 1, a comprehensive package of reforms to our system of government. I hope and expect that the House of Representatives will move quickly to pass this important legislation.
Big problems require bold solutions. H.R. 1 includes sweeping changes to our election laws, including automatic voter registration, an end to voter-roll purges, guaranteed early voting, redistricting reform, and making Election Day a national holiday. H.R. 1 shines a light on dark money in our political system by requiring super PACs and other shadowy organizations to disclose their donors and expenditures, and creates a matching system for citizen-owned elections, allowing everyday Americans to exercise their due influence over our politics. Finally, H.R. 1 restores ethical guardrails in Washington, breaking the influence economy, cracking down on the revolving door, and stomping out conflicts of interest — including by requiring presidents to release their tax returns.
This Congress has an opportunity to strengthen our system of government and build trust with the American people. We can encourage voting, reduce the influence of money on elections, and affirm that our priorities are shaped by voters and not by special interests. Once we unshackle Congress from the scourge of millionaires, billionaires, and corporate interests, we can get serious about reducing the cost of health care and prescription drugs, raising wages, creating better job opportunities, mitigating the effects of climate change, and taking real action on a whole host of issues that Americans care about.
Incoming US Representative Lori Trahan will represent Massachusetts’ Third Congressional District in the US House of Representatives.