After making campaign finance reform a central issue in his winning congressional run, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jason Crow says he anticipates taking a leadership role pushing proposals House Democrats have put at the center of their legislative agenda
Meanwhile, a group dedicated to getting dark money out of politics credited Crow with helping lay the groundwork for HR-1, the election reform and anti-corruption package dubbed the "For the People Act," a comprehensive bill introduced Jan. 3 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat.
"Today, guided by our new members and the American people they represent — that we all represent — we are introducing HR-1, legislation to clean up elections and restore integrity to government," Pelosi said at a press conference introducing the package.
The bill's laundry list of provisions includes making voter registration automatic and setting mandatory early voting periods, establishing public financing for congressional campaigns and requiring presidents to disclose at least a decade's worth of tax returns — the latter aimed at President Donald Trump, the first president in more than 40 years who hasn't made his tax returns public.
It would also establish independent commissions to draw congressional boundaries in an effort to restrict partisan gerrymandering, similar to a state ballot measure approved in November by Colorado voters.
The bill also includes a measure championed by U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, the five-term Republican unseated in November by Crow, to require disclosures by social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, similar to regulations in place for political advertising on television and radio stations.
"This message of cleaning up corruption, reforming our system of government, of bringing servant leadership back to America, resonated not just on my campaign but across the country," said Crow, a co-sponsor of the legislation, in a phone interview.
"This is something that I took on as a lead issue for my campaign very early on because I recognized, whether we were talking about health care or immigration or gun violence — any of these critical legislative priorities for our district, our community — much of the inability to solve these issues and make progress is related to the influence of dark, unaccountable money in our political system," Crow said. "I wanted to go to the root cause of our inability to solve those and to take a leadership role in cleaning up that system."
The head of End Citizens United, a campaign finance reform group that backed Crow, told Colorado Politics that the Aurora Democrat deserves recognition for putting a spotlight on some of HR-1's key elements during his campaign and for helping organize a letter demanding that House Democrats address the plan first on their legislative agenda.
"Rep. Crow’s leadership has played a pivotal role in the introduction of this transformational anti-corruption and reform bill," Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United Action Fund, said in a statement. "Rep. Crow ran a campaign that was centered on un-rigging the system so that government puts the needs of the people ahead of the special interests. ECU applauds Rep. Crow for leading in this fight and looks forward to working with him to pass historic reforms."
Crow was among a handful of congressional candidates nationwide to refuse corporate PAC money more than a year before the election — a position eventually adopted by 134 candidates by the time voters cast ballots. A month before the election, Crow was one of a dozen House challengers who wrote a letter signed by 107 candidates that laid out the framework for what would emerge as HR-1.
In addition, Crow released his own reform package to “end the corrupting influence of big money in politics” and called on Coffman to join him in rejecting “dark money” spending in the race for the suburban swing seat. (Coffman declined, and the contest drew more than $20 million in spending of all kinds, making it the most expensive congressional race in state history.)
Crow also led with a message about campaign finance reform in his first TV ad, saying, “When you see injustice, you have to lead by example, so I’ve taken a pledge that I’m not going to take a dime of corporate PAC money."
"One of the reasons, perhaps the single most important reason, that anti-corruption and reform is at the top of the agenda is because this freshman class made it a priority and called for it to be first," added Adam Bozzi, communications director for End Citizens United. "Rep. Crow was at the forefront of that movement."
Democratic leaders have said the legislation's provisions will likely be spun off into individual bills that have better chances of garnering support from across the aisle, something Crow said he expects to participate in as those bills make their way through Congress.
"I do expect I'm going to be involved in some individual bills," Crow said. "This overall resolution is going to be carried in smaller, separate bills in different components. We're working right now to figure out which of those I'm going to be a lead role on — I expect at least one of those."
Although elements included in HR-1 have bipartisan support, the package faces staunch opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate and would almost certainly be vetoed by Trump.
“That’s not going to go anywhere,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared upon its introduction.
Crow said there are still plenty of reasons to push the legislation, even though the bill as a whole isn't likely to become law anytime soon.
"It's the right thing to do, the American people know it's the right things to do," he said. "We're going to be on the right side of history. I was sent to Washington to get this done, and I'm going to get it done. If people in the Senate or if President Trump wants to shoot down efforts to do that, they're going to have to be accountable to the American people in very short order here."
Crow suggested that Colorado's Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, one of the most vulnerable senators facing election in 2020, can embrace the reforms or face the consequences at the ballot box.
"If Mitch McConnell doesn't want to bring it to the floor of the Senate, he's going to have to be accountable to his members, to his caucus. We're coming up on an election season where there's a lot of senators across the country that are going to be held accountable for what they do in the coming months, folks like Cory Gardner and others, and they're going to have to answer to their voters if they disagree with things like cleaning up our campaign finance system and strengthening ethics rules."