The For the People Act (HR1), a bill currently under consideration in the Senate, would institute a constellation of voting rights protections that include reforming campaign finance law and increasing donor transparency.
HR1 has become a top priority for advocates of American Democracy in the aftermath of the contentious 2020 election, the new waves of voter suppression tactics in states like Kansas and Georgia, and the multitude of state-level laws raising barriers to vote.
Given the shocking events surrounding the Capitol riots on January 6th, this Act would seem to be a slam dunk. And when it was proposed back in 2019, it received co-sponsorship from all 45 Senate Democrats and both Independent Senators.
However, one of those co-sponsors, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has now proven the biggest roadblock. Despite backing the bill 2 years ago, and the fact that roughly 70 percent of West Virginians support it, the Senator has decided that safeguarding our political system from permanent minority rule is too partisan.
The Chamber of Commerce
Something that might help explain Manchin’s change of heart is a $2500 donation in March of this year from the US Chamber of Commerce. While $2500 is not a large donation for an organization like the Chamber, the fact that the donation was made at all is telling. The Chamber is one of the most prominent representatives of the American business community, with members like Google, ExxonMobil, and Pfizer. And the donation in March is the first time they’ve backed Sen. Manchin since 2012.
The Chamber is very well funded. It was the second highest spending lobbying organization in 2020, spending over $80m to influence elections and legislation. And the Chamber really, really does not like HR1. In fact, since HR1 was proposed, the Chamber has spent almost $130m opposing the legislation and similar voter protection and election integrity measures.
Most importantly, and just after breaking its years-long separation with Sen. Manchin, the Chamber of Commerce issued a statement to every Senator, indicating that votes on both HR1 and specific provisions of the bill would factor into the Chamber’s yearly voting scorecard, the private sector equivalent of the NRA’s grading system. So, the Chamber is sending a clear signal to politicians that voting for HR1 will cost them corporate money.
Money and Politics
At the heart of the Chamber’s opposition to HR1 is the bill’s effort at increasing transparency around corporate money in politics. In their statement to the whole Senate, the Chamber name-checks several specific provisions of the bill: disclosure requirements for big donors, public financing for campaigns, and a plan to bulk up the FEC. Coincidentally, those are the top reasons Goods Unite Us supports the bill.
But while the Chamber opposes HR1, not all their members do. Many of the constituent corporations like Coca-Cola have fought voter suppression bills at the state level and some, like GE and S&P Global, have backed Senator Manchin even when their trade association didn’t. So calling this political fight isn’t possible just yet.
In sum, HR1 would provide much-needed reforms that would help protect elections and your vote. Manchin’s corporate donors will help determine which side of HR1 Sen. Manchin ultimately comes down on. If you feel strongly about this, as we do, tell your friends and tell these companies!
Manchin’s top donors
Sen. Manchin’s top donors in the last election cycle were:
- MVB Bank
- Bluewest Media
- JP Morgan Chase & Co.
- Laborers’ International Union of North America
- The Duchossois Group
- National Association of Realtors
- General Motors
- Mortgage Bankers Association
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
And his top corporate donors (over $10k) were:
Microsoft’s total includes both donations from the company and those from Bill and Melinda Gates, whose current wealth derives from ownership in the company.