6 min readFeb 3, 2019

Untitled, Watercolor, 12" x 24", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Anonymous Collector**

The Voter Empowerment Act of 2019, the first House bill in the new Congress, has no chance of becoming law during the 116th Congress.

H.R. 1, The Voter Empowerment Act of 2019:

Republican lawmakers know that unimpeded, fair elections in which voting is simplified and prioritized is disadvantageous . . . to them. Moreover, H.R. 1 proposes sweeping reforms to reduce corruption, increase transparency, reduce foreign interference, increase security and improve accountability in the electoral process, again, something the GOP finds anathema to its core value. “Hey, if it helps us win, it ain’t broke.”

Referring to the House effort to make election day a holiday for federal employees, for example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “This is the Democrat plan to restore democracy? A power grab that’s smelling more and more like exactly what it is.” A sponsor of the legislation, however, suggested that any grab for power is on behalf of the electorate and away from corruption, mis-information, foreign interference and voter suppression: “To say to the public, from this point forward, if you give the gavel to lawmakers who are interested in being accountable to you, this is the kind of change you can expect to see. If you like this, give us a gavel in the Senate and give us a pen in the White House.” Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes.

The House majority may try to advance selective portions of H.R. 1. They should. One by one. In combination with massive media campaigns that accurately explain the problems and the reasoned solutions to correct them. As the Senate and White House systematically shoot them down by refusing to allow a vote, voting them down or vetoing them, the 2020 Republican Platform and GOP position on corruption, transparency, foreign interference, security and accountability will be recognized for what they are: blatant falsehoods, lies along the lines of the bizarre Republican campaign in the lead-up to the 2018 election that the GOP is the party most interested in protecting insurance coverage for people with preexisting conditions.

“[B]y making anti-corruption their №1 priority, House Democrats are throwing down the gauntlet for Republicans. A vast majority of Americans want to get the influence of money out of politics, and want Congress to pass laws to do so. New polling from the PAC End Citizens United found 82 percent of all voters and 84 percent of independents said they support a bill of reforms to tackle corruption.

“Given how popular the issue is, and Trump’s multitude of scandals, it looks bad for Republicans to be the party opposing campaign finance reform — especially going into 2020.

“‘Our best friend in this debate is the public,’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters recently. ‘We believe it will have great support.’”

The foregoing article gives an excellent, succinct summary of the 571 page bill, so I defer to that summary. It’s worth a look.

“Campaign finance

• Public financing of campaigns, powered by small donations. Under Sarbanes’s vision, the federal government would provide a voluntary 6–1 match for candidates for president and Congress, which means for every dollar a candidate raises from small donations, the federal government would match it six times over. The maximum small donation that could be matched would be capped at $200. ‘If you give $100 to a candidate that’s meeting those requirements, then that candidate would get another $600 coming in behind them,’ Sarbanes told Vox this summer. ‘The evidence and the modeling is that most candidates can do as well or better in terms of the dollars they raise if they step into this new system.’

• Support for a constitutional amendment to end Citizens United.

• Passing the Disclose Act, pushed by Rep. David Cicilline and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, both Democrats from Rhode Island. This would require Super PACs and ‘dark money’ political organizations to make their donors public.

• Passing the Honest Ads Act, championed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Mark Warner (VA) and introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) in the House, which would require Facebook and Twitter to disclose the source of money for political ads on their platforms and share how much money was spent.

• Disclosing any political spending by government contractors and slowing the flow of foreign money into the elections by targeting shell companies.

• Restructuring the Federal Election Commission to have five commissioners instead of the current four, in order to break political gridlock.

• Prohibiting any coordination between candidates and Super PACs.


• Requiring the president and vice president to disclose 10 years of his or her tax returns. Candidates for president and vice president must also do the same.

• Stopping members of Congress from using taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment or discrimination cases.

• Giving the Office of Government Ethics the power to do more oversight and enforcement and put in stricter lobbying registration requirements. These include more oversight into foreign agents by the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

• Creating a new ethical code for the US Supreme Court, ensuring all branches of government are impacted by the new law.

“Voting rights

• Creating new national automatic voter registration that asks voters to opt out, rather than opt in, ensuring more people will be signed up to vote. Early voting, same-day voter registration, and online voter registration would also be promoted.

• Making Election Day a holiday for federal employees and encouraging private sector businesses to do the same, requiring poll workers to provide a week’s notice if poll sites are changed, and making colleges and universities a voter registration agency (in addition to the DMV, etc), among other updates.

• Ending partisan gerrymandering in federal elections and prohibiting voter roll purging. The bill would stop the use of non-forwardable mail being used as a way to remove voters from rolls.

• Beefing up elections security, including requiring the director of national intelligence to do regular checks on foreign threats.

• Recruiting and training more poll workers ahead of the 2020 election to cut down on long lines at the polls.

“HR 1 is intended to be a large package, but Sarbanes said in addition to passing it as the first bill, members will likely break out pieces of it into smaller bills that individually could get bipartisan support from Republicans in the Senate — things including the Honest Ads Act and boosting election security.

“‘We’re seeing more political spending go to the internet and we have clear evidence that foreign actors tried to influence the election through the internet,’ said Kilmer, the Democrat who introduced the Honest Ads Act in the House. ‘The last Congress, you saw a committee hearing grilling the Facebook CEO but [it] didn’t really do anything to fix the problem.’ . . .

“‘The combination of having some [bills] like that plus having a powerful push out of the gate the public responds to in a positive way creates political pressure for Republicans to get on board,’ Sarbanes told Vox. ‘They are going to discover this sort of thing is popular back in their district.’”

*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to and

**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in and https://lastamendment.comare hers




Exercising my right not to remain silent. Criminal defense and First Amendment attorney.