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Hill Bulletin.

This year, the LWVUS Board recommitted to the Democracy Agenda, adding lobbying and ethics reform and the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act to the existing priorities: election reform, campaign finance reform, redistricting and civil liberties. Because The National Voter is published just three times yearly, we strongly urge you to check the League Web site (www.lwv.org; click on "Take Action") periodically for the most current information on these priority issues and current action opportunities. We also urge you to sign up for the Grassroots Lobby Corps (see box at the end of Hill Bulletin).

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LOBBYING REFORM AND ETHICS

The recent round of lobbying scandals demonstrates that current mechanisms, from the congressional ethics process to campaign finance regulation to gift and travel restrictions, are simply inadequate to protect against corruption. Fundamental change is needed.

The League wants Congress to enact lobby reform legislation that sets new contribution and fundraising limits on lobbyists and lobbying firms; fundamentally changes the gift, travel and employment relationships among members of Congress, lobbyists and lobbying firms; and institutes new and effective enforcement mechanisms. Congress needs an independent office to oversee and enforce ethics rules and lobbying laws, receive allegations and complaints, conduct investigations and present cases to congressional ethics committees. See this issue's Sounding Off, "Not Business as Usual."

It is vital for Congress to adopt these strong, effective and comprehensive reform measures. So far, what has emerged from the Senate is an inadequate bill, one that does not include an independent ethics office. On this writing, the House leadership is trying to put together a bill and the League, with coalition partners, has been fighting for stronger restrictions and requirements and inclusion of an Office of Public Integrity.

What You Can Do:

Tell your Senators and Representatives that you are outraged by the scandals and strongly support comprehensive, effective reform, including establishment of an Office of Public Integrity.

VOTING RIGHTS

The Senate has started hearings on the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). At this writing, we anticipate a good bill in the House.

Key provisions (Section 5 and Section 203) of this landmark legislation are due to expire in August 2007. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain Justice Department approval before implementing changes to voting practices and procedures. Section 203 provides for bilingual voting materials and assistance to voters in communities where that is needed.

The League strongly supports reauthorization and renewal of the expiring VRA provisions. Section 5, the pre-clearance provision, and Section 203, the language assistance provision, have been effective, but are still needed. Furthermore, the VRA must not be weakened by any amendments; rather it must be strengthened and restored.

Under the VRA, instances of voter discrimination have decreased, but some minority voters still confront barriers when exercising their right to vote. See VRA article on p. 10.

What You Can Do:

Check the League Web site for the latest on VRA reauthorization.

ELECTION REFORM

Congress must complete funding for the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). Of the $798 million which needs to be authorized, $724 million is for federally-mandated processes and equipment that state and local governments must have in place for federal elections in 2006 and $74 million is for assisting state and local governments in making all polling places accessible. Time is running out.

State and local governments have worked hard on HAVA mandated reforms such as improving disability access to polling places, updating voting equipment, implementing new provisional balloting procedures, developing and implementing a new statewide voter registration database, training poll workers and educating voters on new procedures and new equipment.

Without full federal funding, state and local governments will encounter serious fiscal shortfalls and will not be able to afford complete implementation of important HAVA mandates.

Between FY03 and FY04, Congress clearly saw the importance of fully funding HAVA, providing $3 billion of the $3.9 billion authorized for HAVA implementation. Since then, unfortunately, no federal funds have been appropriated.

What You Can Do:

Tell your members of Congress to appropriate the $798 million so that state and local governments can complete their vital work on HAVA implementation.

The LWVUS is working with some state Leagues on the implementation of the National Voter Registration Act in states, in particular, restrictions on voter registration and failures to implement agency-based registration. See "New Barriers to Voting" on p. 7. The League has urged the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to act, under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), to protect voters against measures that undermine voter participation.

With the NVRA, Congress made voter registration widely available. In addition to voter registration through departments of motor vehicles, the NVRA provides for voter registration by mail and through designated agencies.

Unfortunately, a variety of actions are being taken in the states that undermine accessible voter registration, national standards, and broad dissemination and use of uniform mail voter registration forms.

To remedy this, the League of Women Voters has asked the EAC to act to ensure the following principles: States must accept and use the mail voter registration application form developed by the EAC; state mail voter registration application forms for voters in federal elections cannot be more restrictive than the mail voter registration application form developed by the EAC; state requirements that burden the acceptance and use of mail registration forms are inconsistent with the NVRA; and states should provide for broad dissemination of the mail voter registration form developed by the EAC and encourage its use.

What You Can Do:

Work with your state League on this important issue.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM

Crucial Presidential Public Financing and Congressional Public Financing legislation are being formulated.

Both major candidates for U.S. President in 2004 opted out of the presidential public financing system in the primaries for the first time since its establishment. The dollars raised and spent in 2004 broke previous records, showing that presidential public financing is in deep trouble and measures must be taken now for 2008. See The National Voter, p. 9, June 2004.

There are important reasons for public financing. Reasonable spending limits provide the opportunity for competitive races to occur without turning the elections into a nonstop arms race for private contributions and putting candidates on the special interest "auction" block. An effective financing system provides the funds necessary to ensure that serious and lesser-known candidates have the resources to communicate their views and an opportunity to compete. An effective system for matching small contributions with public funds increases the importance and role of small donors in elections and diminishes the importance of larger donors, influence-seeking big money in particular.

What You Can Do:

Tell your Senators and Representative to support both presidential and congressional public financing.

Fundamental protections to our election process were put into place by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA). However, challenges to these two important campaign finance laws continue in 2006. The LWVUS has fought back these challenges to date and the House has passed a good "527" bill to close existing loopholes, but the Senate has not acted yet.

What You Can Do:

Continue to check the League Web site and alerts for action on challenges to BCRA.

CIVIL LIBERTIES

The House and the Senate have been considering how to deal with the President's 2002 secret order allowing National Security Agency (NSA) wiretaps of hundreds of U.S. citizens and other residents without court-approved warrants. The President maintains that this surveillance is legal and he has independent authority to carry it out. Furthermore, when the President signed the Department of Defense Appropriations bill, containing the McCain Amendment, barring the use of torture in interrogations and the cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees, he reserved the right to bypass the law, citing presidential powers.

Congress must exercise its constitutional authority and ensure that the Executive branch does not encroach on civil liberties.

What You Can Do:

Tell Congress to exercise its constitutional authority and protect civil liberties.

ENVIRONMENT

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is a 19.3 million-acre refuge situated between the Arctic Ocean and the Brooks Range in the northeastern corner of Alaska. It covers an amazing diversity of habitat, from rugged peaks and glaciers to tundra and the coastal plain. Estimates suggest there is a limited amount of oil under the Refuge, perhaps a six-month supply for the U.S. Modest fuel efficiency improvements for motor vehicles alone would save approximately five times the amount of oil estimated to be under the Arctic Refuge.

Opening up ANWR for new oil and gas drilling is one issue that we keep fighting and winning. Whenever possible, some members of Congress find a way to slip it into another bill.

What You Can Do:

Tell your members of Congress that you oppose oil drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Continue to check the League Web site for current updates.

Join the Grassroots Lobby Corps and make a difference! Stay informed and take action with the League on important upcoming battles for responsible federal policy. To sign up to receive action alerts by e-mail go to www.lwv.org and click on "Take Action." It takes just a few minutes a month to make your voice heard.
COPYRIGHT 2006 League of Women Voters
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:election reform
Author:Ponomareff, Shirley Tabata
Publication:National Voter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Words:1561
Previous Article:Voting Rights Act reauthorization: what you need to know.
Next Article:Education fund.
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