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Congress must fine more leaders among its staff, writes former Rep. Martin Frost, citing Rep. Marc Veasey (above). Veasey once worked in Frost's office and now represents that district.

Without bipartisanship, we can only fight

Frost is president of the Association of Former Members of Congress. A Democrat, he represented Texas in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 2005.

Last month, I was honored to testify before the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.

I represented the 24th District of Texas for 13 terms in the House, and for 26 years I was a member of the Rules Committee. I also served on the Budget and House Administration committees. I was Democratic Caucus chairman for four years and chaired the Caucus Rules Committee for 10.

Congress has been on my mind for much of my adult life.

Before I testified in front of the committee, I read all the statements of the previous witnesses. All were helpful but I must admit that my favorite proposal was Rep. Bennie Thompson's No Couches for Congress Act. Stopping members from sleeping in their offices would certainly modernize Congress, and improve its image among Americans.

Transparency will also improve that image, as my good friend Majority Leader Steny Hoyer noted when addressing earmarks. Hoyer was right when he said that earmarks can create bipartisan cooperation in appropriations. Importantly, he focused on transparency in any return of earmarks. American citizens must know where their money is being spent and who asked that it be spent that way.

The only way to effectively do the people's business is with transparency.

Doing that business also requires trusted, talented staffers, who are mentored by their bosses. I am proud that one of my former staffers, Marc Veasey, now represents part of my district. An intern of mine on the Rules Committee, Dennis Cardoza, eventually became a representative from California.

These two men, and hundreds of women and men working in Congress today, share important career aspirations: public service and improving our nation. Congress must identify leaders – and servants – in its staff. Then, they must be given the education and career growth needed to advance their public service careers. Congress runs the largest employer in the country, the American government. You don't run a company by failing to retain – and grow – your best and brightest.

Transparency and growing talented staff should be bipartisan.

Bipartisanship is very important for me.

I was pleased to chair the Frost-Solomon House Task Force, created to help mold the legislatures of 10 emerging Eastern and Central European democracies, following the breakup of the Soviet Union. I focused on bipartisanship in all our actions. We worked hand in hand with George H.W. Bush's State Department. No congressional delegation was sent unless it was bipartisan.

That bipartisan spirit led to great impact by our task force, creating new allies in Europe.

Without bipartisanship, we cannot accomplish great things. We can only fight.

I now serve as president of the Association of Former Members of Congress. We are the premier organization using bipartisan work by former members to foster bipartisanship in today's Congress.

I think what FMC does can be instructive to our conversation today. We are all united, Republicans and Democrats alike, by the appreciation of what a great privilege it was to represent our constituents in Congress. We understand like few others the honor of earning the trust of thousands of our fellow Americans, who chose us to be their voice in the government of our representative republic in Washington.

FMC's membership is uniquely aware that public service is a noble calling. Through FMC, there is a united, bipartisan effort to share with the next generation that our representative democracy is one that thrives when citizens participate and when engaged men and women step forward to run for office and put their ideas to the test.

FMC is an organization of more than 600 former lawmakers, from both the House and the Senate, and we are 100 percent bipartisan. We have members from all political persuasions working together energetically under our umbrella. We are proof that healthy partisanships can co-exist with collegiality and a willingness to work together. Our members do so through myriad programs, most prominently the Congress to Campus program, which sends bipartisan teams of former members to almost 40 university campuses per academic year so that we can engage the next generation in a dialogue about civic participation and public service.

This ability to work together is not solely based on the fact that we are former rather than current members of Congress, but primarily because we have a chance to get to know each other and build relationships that transcend political labels.

For many of FMC's members, there was more to be accomplished after leaving Congress. FMC is a way to encourage current lawmakers to use bipartisanship to achieve as much as they can, to avoid that regret of unfinished improvement.

In fact, FMC is collecting oral histories of dozens of members of Congress who left after last session. When it is finished, it will be donated to the Library of Congress. But, I hope we'll be able to share our record and analysis of these interviews with the Modernization Committee soon.

Hopefully that work, combined with all the other efforts of reformers, can create the better Congress we all look forward to.

Rep. Dan Lipinski testified before the committee as well. When he was a teacher, his government classes watched the Schoolhouse Rock video "How a Bill Becomes a Law." My students at George Washington University do the same. Unfortunately, I have to tell them that's not how Congress works today.

I hope the work of reformers, and the Modernization Committee, will help get us closer to the Schoolhouse Rock ideal of transparency, bipartisanship and public service and, in doing so, help prevent some of the public cynicism about our government.

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Swing states build 2020 hacking protections: Will they hold?

With the presidency on the ballot in less than a year, fears of another attempt by Russia or other foreign powers to interfere in the election seem to grow with each passing day.

But in the battlegrounds where the outcome will be decided — the 13 states almost certain to be most hotly contested by both parties — election security has been tightening and the opportunities for a successful hacking of American democracy are being greatly reduced, a review of the procedures and equipment on course to be used in each state in November 2020 makes clear.

"There's been a huge amount of progress since 2016," says Elaine Kamarck, an election security expert at the Brookings Institution. James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, says his assessment of the fight against election interference results in feeling "confident that a lot has been done to make it better."

In fact, many who work on the issue now cite the public's perception that our election systems are vulnerable as a problem at least as great as the actual threat.

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Along with the candidates and the issues, the 2020 presidential election is also going to be about the voting process itself.

Russian efforts to hack into the voting systems of 2016 have boosted election security to a critical concern this time, prompting states to spend tens of millions buying new equipment, hiring cybersecurity wizards and installing software that warns of intrusions — among numerous other steps. More purchases of hardware, software and expertise are coming in the months ahead.

Whether enough money gets spent, and wisely, won't be known for sure until Nov. 3, 2020 — when the system will be subject to the one test that really matters. And whether the country decides the presidential election result is trustworthy will likely come down to how reliably things work in the relatively small number of states both nominees are contesting.

[Swing states build 2020 hacking protections: Will they hold?]

With 11 months to go, The Fulcrum reviewed information from state elections officials, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Election Assistance Commission and news reports to get a sense of the election security landscape. Here's the state of play in the 13 states likeliest to be presidential battlegrounds.

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"Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy," argues Wambui Gatheru.

For the young, getting big money out of politics is the cause of our time

Gatheru is the outreach manager at American Promise, which advocates for amending the Constitution to permit laws that regulate the raising and spending of campaign funds. She graduated two years ago from the University of Connecticut.

When young Americans come together, we can make a big impact. That's what we've seen throughout history. Alexander Hamilton and Betsy Ross were in their early 20s during the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass was 23 years old when he took the stage at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Alice Paul through her 20s led the fight for the 19th Amendment and women's voting rights.

And that's what we're seeing today in youth-led climate movements around the globe and the movement to end mass shootings here in the United States. But one issue that doesn't get as much attention sits at the root of our modern problems: big money in politics.

Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy. Due to a series of Supreme Court cases, corporations have the same rights as humans, special interests control Capitol Hill and democracy only works for those who can afford it. This is the dystopia my generation has inherited.

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Howard Dean and Barack Obama pioneered the drive for small-dollar contributors. Now, such donations have become an important measuring stick and may be contributing to increased polarization.

Small-dollar gifts hardly a cure-all for money’s smear on politics, one professor argues

The explosion of small-donor political contributions is often celebrated and extolled as one of the few positive developments amid all the problems facing the democracy reform movement.

Not so fast, argues New York University law school professor Richard Pildes. In a new essay published in the Yale Law Journal Forum, he argues the proliferation of modest contributions to candidates may be contributing to more political polarization and, at least, requires more careful examination.

Pildes also says the proposals to promote more small-donor giving that are part of the House Democrats' comprehensive political process overhaul, known as HR 1, could have unintended negative consequences.

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