Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 6, 2021

Baltimore Congressman advocates for campaign finance reform

By MOLLY GAHAGEN | October 30, 2020

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PUBLIC DOMAIN U.S. Representative John Sarbanes spoke at a HopDems event about campaign finance reform in the context of the upcoming election.

The College Democrats at Hopkins (HopDems) hosted U.S. Representative John Sarbanes to discuss campaign finance reform on Oct. 27. 

Sarbanes has represented Maryland’s third district, which includes Baltimore and Annapolis, in the House of Representatives since 2007. His platform is centered on governmental reform and environmental protection.

Sarbanes sponsored the For the People Act (H.R.1) in the 116th Congress in 2019, which is aimed at reforming campaign finances and election integrity.

“H.R. 1 was the House of Representatives’ answer to the frustration people feel about all these things: voting suppression, partisan gerrymandering, ethical lapses, conflicts of interest in Washington, attacks from foreign actors on our infrastructure, foreign interference in our election, super-pacs and dark money, and the inside crowd that bankrolls elections and calls the shots,” he said. “It’s a big bang response to grievances of the country.”

Junior and HopDems Co-President Ryan Ebrahimy organized the event. He explained why the group invited Sarbanes to be a speaker in an email to The News-Letter. 

“Congressman Sarbanes is a leader in the House when it comes to campaign finance and democratic reform,” he wrote. “The conversations that came out of the event were especially insightful in highlighting the stranglehold that Big Money and corporate interests have on the entire political process.”

H.R. 1 was passed in 2019 and was co-sponsored by all Democrats in Congress. However, it has not been passed by the Senate, which is currently held by a Republican majority. 

Sarbanes emphasized the importance of acting fast on H.R. 1 if Democrats secure the presidency, House and Senate after this election. 

“The H.R.1 bag is packed and by the front door. If we get the trifecta, we have to grab it and go and act fast because [Senate majority leader] Mitch McConnell will try to take it down and challenge it because it goes right to the heart to dismantle the power structure he has built over decades,” he said.

According to freshman Min-Seo Kim, Sarbanes’ talk taught him the importance of down-ballot elections in eliciting change and proposing policies.

“The little guys down the ballot are also just as important [as the presidential election] because if you want change you have to vote for people who you like and who would enact those changes at every level of the government,” Kim said in an interview with The News-Letter. “It’s these people who often do the gritty, unpleasant work of drafting the policies and negotiating getting it passed, and this is the stuff we usually see outside of the news cycle.”

When asked what he would do about gerrymandering, the practice of drawing district borders to favor one party over the other, Sarbanes demurred on the question, citing the role of the governor in district map drawing. Sarbanes’ congressional district has received attention for being heavily gerrymandered

Sarbanes also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic. According to him, the White House lacked leadership in coordinating a national response. 

“I’ve been frustrated in Washington because I sit on the Oversight Committee where we get these various agencies to come testify in front of us,“ he said. “We’ve been asking them since February: What’s the plan? What’s the plan for testing? What’s the plan for contact tracing? What’s the plan for developing treatments? What’s the plan for working with governors and local officials around the country? And this administration hasn’t had a plan.” 

According to Sarbanes, the only way to remedy this inaction is to vote U.S. President Donald J. Trump out of office at the upcoming election. 

“If [Trump] is not going to agree that we have to figure out a plan to deal with our health and with the threat of this pandemic, then we have to get somebody else,” he said. “This is the choice that’s before the public. Fundamentally, we want to be safe. We want to be healthy.”

Sarbanes expressed his support for former Vice President Joe Biden in the election. 

“Joe Biden’s not perfect, but he understands what the office of the president is and the responsibilities that it brings,” Sarbanes said. “With Joe Biden, you’re going to have a person who respects science, will listen to public health experts and will also get people into key positions who are the same way. We need some steadiness, some humility, some stability, some compassion [and] that’s what we’re voting on.”

Chris H. Park, the vice president of HopDems, is a News & Features Editor for The News-Letter. He did not contribute reporting, writing or editing to this article.

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