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First HR 1 ad campaign is about keeping purple district Democrats in the fold

First HR 1 ad campaign is about keeping purple district Democrats in the fold

The uphill climb to enact HR 1, legislation that's become the democracy reform Holy Grail, won't begin for weeks. But advocates have already decided they need to buck up and provide cover to their most loyal congressional allies — Democrats in the House.

Good-government and progressive groups will start spending $1.3 million on Wednesday to press 18 lawmakers, all of whom just survived intense and expensive re-election challenges, to continue supporting the measure. They all voted for the bill when it first passed two years ago.

The advertising campaign is a clear signal that lobbying for the measure will be sustained and expansive, on the one hand, but also the freshest of several signs that the legislation's prospects are very far from guaranteed.

Although federal lawmaking is now entirely under the control of HR 1's Democratic authors, the party's narrow margin of control in the House is the smallest since World War II — just five seats. If Republicans remain unified against the bill, which seems very likely to be the case, passage will require 98 percent buy-in from the other side.

To boost those prospects, the groups are buying 30-second TV ads and 15-second digital spots designed to reach into districts in 14 states that look to be purple again in 2022, not only because of redistricting but also because history shows the midterm after a new president takes office benefits the party out of the White House.

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Assuming House passage, the package would then be at least assured of consideration in the newly Democratic Senate, where leaders have signaled their enthusiasm by labeling their companion bill S 1. But the legislation faces no chance of passage unless the party decides to curtail if not altogether eliminate the legislative filibuster in order to advance its priorities just on party lines.

That is a topic of intense debate within the Democratic ranks, and it won't be decided for a couple of months at the earliest — after final disposition of President Biden's top legislative priority, his $1.9 trillion economic rescue package. That bill could be enacted under special rules that don't require the usual 60 Senate votes.

The bill amounts to a sweeping overhaul of campaign finance, election and government ethics laws — including a new system of public financing and enhanced donor disclosures for presidential and congressional campaigns; mandates that politically independent panels control redistricting in every state; and national requirements for no-excuse voting by mail, stiffened election security, generous early in-person voting timetables and streamlined registration processes.

Democratic proponents argue that the complexities and vagaries in the state-by-state patchwork system — exposed to new scrutiny during an election in a nationwide pandemic and former President Donald Trump's lies about election fraud — should be significantly reduced in order to prevent voter suppression and boost confidence in the political system's fairness.

Republican opponents flatly disagree, arguing that states should retain their high level of authority over how their elections are run. They also assert the largely deregulated money-in-politics system should be left alone or else freedom of political speech would be stifled.

"You can't fix a corrupt system without shaking things up," counters the script of many of the TV ads, which is why the lawmaker on screen voted for HR 1 in 2019 and now "has a chance to pass the most comprehensive anti-corruption legislation in decades. To get dark money out of politics. Strengthen our ethics laws. And make both parties accountable to us again."

The ads are focused on assuring "yes" votes from Tom O'Halleran of Arizona, Josh Harder and Katie Porter of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Cindy Axne of Iowa, Lauren Underwood of Illinois, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Jared Golden of Maine, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, Antonio Delgado of New York, Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, Colin Allred of Texas, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Andy Kim, Tom Malinowski and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey.

The ads are being underwritten by the campaign finance reform group End Citizens United, the progressive democracy reform groups Public Citizen and Common Cause, the Communication Workers of America, and the pro-gun-control Brady PAC.

"Now, following an attack on our democracy — including an insurrection at the Capitol — it is time to finish the job and pass this into law," said Tiffany Muller of End Citizens United.


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Our question about the price of freedom received a light response. We asked:

What price have you, your friends or your family paid for the freedom we enjoy? And what price would you willingly pay?

It was a question born out of the horror of images from Ukraine. We hope that the news about the Jan. 6 commission and Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination was so riveting that this question was overlooked. We considered another possibility that the images were so traumatic, that our readers didn’t want to consider the question for themselves. We saw the price Ukrainians paid.

One response came from a veteran who noted that being willing to pay the ultimate price for one’s country and surviving was a gift that was repaid over and over throughout his life. “I know exactly what it is like to accept that you are a dead man,” he said. What most closely mirrored my own experience was a respondent who noted her lack of payment in blood, sweat or tears, yet chose to volunteer in helping others exercise their freedom.

Personally, my price includes service to our nation, too. The price I paid was the loss of my former life, which included a husband, a home and a seemingly secure job to enter the political fray with a message of partisan healing and hope for the future. This work isn’t risking my life, but it’s the price I’ve paid.

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Given the earnest question we asked, and the meager responses, I am also left wondering if we think at all about the price of freedom? Or have we all become so entitled to our freedom that we fail to defend freedom for others? Or was the question poorly timed?

I read another respondent’s words as an indicator of his pacifism. And another veteran who simply stated his years of service. And that was it. Four responses to a question that lives in my heart every day. We look forward to hearing Your Take on other topics. Feel free to share questions to which you’d like to respond.

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