Malinowski hosts 'Protecting Democracy' teleconference
Walter O'Brien, The Bernardsville News
Rep. Tom Malinowski , D-7, on Friday, May 1, hosted a virtual forum called "Defending Our Vote & Combating Corruption" on protecting democracy and expressing the need for voting by mail, campaign finance reform, and not forcing voters to choose between voting rights and their health.
Malinowski was joined by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Maryland, chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force, and Tiffany Muller, president and executive director of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, for a virtual forum on protecting democracy and defending the vote during the coronavirus pandemic and while combating the influence of special interests.
"A lot has happened since perhaps the most dramatic moment in the debate on securing and reforming our democracy came just one month ago in Wisconsin when we saw something that we should never ever ever have seen in the United States of America," Malinowksi said. "People being forced literally to choose between their right to vote and the right to life. I've seen that happen in Afghanistan, I've seen that happen in Iraq, I've seen that happen in war-torn countries around the world, but not in the United States of America."
Malinowski said that for decades the country seemed to be making progress on voting rights since the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s, including positive actions by states to make voting registration easier, like "motor voter" and voting by mail.
"But in the last decade or so...there has been a movement in this country to reverse that," he said.
"I ran on those issues. We demanded that our future Congressional leadership, if we were elected, take this up as their top priority and indeed, after we were elected, under Congressman Sarbanes' leadership, we drafted a bill called HR 1 - the first bill introduced in the house in that term - that took on ethics reform, that took on campaign finance and dark money in our politics that took on partisan gerrymandering. We passed it in the House and as I suppose one might have predicted it has ever since been blocked by the main opponent of reform in our country today - Sen. Mitch McConnell, leader of the United States Senate.
"And then the coronavirus crisis came along and a number of us thought, OK, here's something that everyone ought to agree on. It's sinful that if it becomes too dangerous to vote in the general election because this epidemic is still spreading this November at least people ought to be able to vote," Malinowski said.
He said that in many states all elections are 100 percent vote by mail, so a provision was added into the CARES Act, the first coronavirus bill, but once again, Sen. McConnell blocked it.
"This got a little bit partisan in Washington," Malinwoksk said. "It's not partisan among the American people. It's not partisan among my constituents here in the 7th District. There's no evidence that if we had easy voting for everyone in America that it would favor one party or another but it just shows you the mindset but some people have just decided that the only way they can win is by making it harder and in fact more dangerous for our fellow Americans to vote and it's even gotten partisan in the politics of New Jersey."
Malinowski said that his opponent this year as he runs for re-election in the November election is State Sen. Thomas Kean, R-Union, Somerset.
"Interestingly, over the last 10 years, he's voted against every bill in the New Jersey state senate to make it easier for New Jerseyans to vote. He voted against the law that is in place, fortunately, in New Jersey that allows every New Jerseyan to vote by mail. No excuse for any reason. Thank goodness, he lost that fight because we now have the choice, the freedom, to vote safely even if the coronavirus is back in the fall."
Rep. John Sarbanes
Sarbanes said we can have vote by mail and in-person voting that's done safely.
"They just did this in South Korea. They pulled off an election without exposing anybody significantly to infection even in the midst of this pandemic. So it's a matter of having the resources to do it and Tom and I and and Tiffany working with End Citizens United and many others are pushing very hard right now."
(End Citizens United) was founded to end the influence of big money in politics and to make sure that every American has the right and access to vote," Muller said. "The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court in January 2010 was one of the most disastrous decisions of our lifetime. That took two really terrible ideas and merged them together and said corporations are people and money equals speech. It really put a for sale sign on our democracy and we have seen those consequences play out and elections across the country, but also in the public policy.
Muller said that November 2020 will be the most important election of our lifetimes and it is no surprise that the Republicans in Washington have been blocking all efforts to address this voting access crisis and to expand the right to vote.
"Our entire system right now is rigged to favor those who can write the biggest check and that's why we need the leadership of Congressman Malinowski and Congressman Sarbanes in Congress, because every single day they are providing a voice for everyday American people.
"We also have to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform because we know that the same people who want to block access to the ballot box are the same people who support unlimited and undisclosed funding in our elections to buy elections," Muller said. "November 2020 is the most important election of our time and one thing we have is the opportunity to do is give Mitch McConnell a new job, and I am all for that."
She added that money is also a big issue in New Jersey politics.
Malinowski's opponent state Sen. Thomas "Kean is already in the pocket of corporate special interests," Muller said. "He's taken $1.2 million from corporate special interests, and he has voted against cracking down on surprise medical billing. He voted against expanding prescription drug coverage for seniors and those with disabilities and he voted against protections for pre-existing conditions. Not only that... he voted against efforts that thankfully passed to expand vote by mail and against automatic voter registration.
The first question asked about safeguards to prevent another Wisconsin-type primary where people had to choose between voting and their health, especially since the New York and the New Jersey primaries were postponed.
"We need Congress to provide more election preparedness funding,"Muller said. "(States) need to implement the election preparedness that's going to be needed for November. We also need to implement a national no, excuse vote by mail option for November."
She said safeguards are needed to ensure that in-person voting can be done safely and to expand the length of early voting to at least 20 days in order to thin out the crowds and make sure there are no long lines and enough clean and sanitized polling locations.
Congressman Sarbanes added that this is the time to send a message to (Sen.) McConnell that this has got to be a number one priority.
Rep. Sarbanes was asked about opponents of mail voting claiming it gives an advantage to one party over another.
"There's no question the Republicans seem to be nervous about the idea of making it easier for people to vote in America," Sarbanes said. "You can draw conclusions from that if you wanted to but there's no hard evidence that on balance its going to net out in favor of one party. Actually the polling there's a there's a recent poll just in the last few days that shows strong bipartisan support for voting by mail."
Rep. Malinowski was asked if coronavirus pandemic has not only exposed challenges with ensuring a safe election, but has also deepened significant cracks in our healthcare system. People are losing their insurance when they are laid off, their premiums are going up and they're concerned about being able to afford treatment or even regular regular prescriptions.
Malinowski said the question helps to illustrate why campaign finance reform and fixing democracy "Issue Number One" because it touches every other issue that affects our lives.
"The crisis has absolutely exposed flaws and inequities in our health care system," Malinowski said. "For years (we heard) that nobody should have to worry about losing their health insurance if they lose their jobs, and now 20 percent of the American people have lost their jobs or are unemployed. We've argued nobody should have to worry about health care if they have a personal crisis, and now all of us are in the middle of the crisis. And so Congress is scrambling and the administration is scrambling."
"It can only be explained by one thing and that is that too many elected officials are listening to their donors before they listen to their voters," Malinowski said. "It's become easier to be a donor than to be a voter in America and that means if you're a politician and you want to stay in office you increasingly consciously or unconsciously thinking about mobilizing money before you think about mobilizing people.
"Money has a very different point of view than those people - money is telling you don't reform the healthcare system and don't lower the cost of prescription drugs. And so that's why we're here - because we care about the health care system and the environment and gun violence and national security and a thousand other issues where the outcome should be determined by the voices of the American people, not the money.
Sarbanes said there needs to be a new way of funding campaigns where the people are in charge and where they own the system and where they own the priorities when it comes to policy.
"We're going to go to the people that have broken our democracy by leaning on it the big corporations and the wealthy and we're going to have them be the ones to pay to fix this democracy because that's how it ought to work," Sarbanes said. "So let's take back control of how policies made in Washington by having a people step up and own the system."
Muller said that on any given day, 1,500 lobbyists representing "Big Pharma" are on Capitol Hill - three for every member of Congress.
"How are everyday people supposed to have a voice in that system when they're spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year on the elections giving a hundreds of millions of dollars in PAC contributions and flooding Capitol Hill with lobbyists," Muller said.
Malinowkis was asked how the economical impact of unemployment and increased donations to community care has been affecting level of grassroots donations to campaigns.
"We still have to continue our campaign because as I often say the one thing we cannot postpone in America is the November election. We can postpone the baseball season, we can postpone rock concerts.
"We can't postpone November. It's the choice that we have to make, so we have to be ready," Malinowski said.