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Voting, Elections and Campaign Finance

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Rep. Eshoo believes our political process is too often distorted by the influence of money in politics and the distrust it breeds. Since she was first elected to Congress, Rep. Eshoo has worked to pass legislation to restore trust in our nation’s elections and protect the right of all citizens to access the polls.


Campaign Finance Reform

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court overturned decades of precedent when it ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations can spend freely to support or oppose candidates for President and Congress. By allowing corporations unlimited access to their wallets, the Supreme Court undermined the principle of the “will of the people” in favor of the “will of the corporation.”

In response to the Court’s decision, Rep. Eshoo cosponsored the bipartisan DISCLOSE Act, which passed the House on June 24, 2010 but never passed the Senate. Under this bill, organizations, including corporations, labor unions and nonprofit groups, would have to disclose to the Federal Election Commission all campaign-related expenditures or transfer of money to other groups within 24 hours. This would prevent the deceptive use of a sham umbrella group to support or oppose a candidate. The bill also required any organization which makes contributions to fully report them to shareholders and post them on their websites. Rep. Eshoo is currently a cosponsor of the updated version of the DISCLOSE Act, H.R. 1134.

In addition to supporting the DISCLOSE Act, Rep. Eshoo is a cosponsor of H.J.Res. 31, a Constitutional Amendment that would clarify once and for all that Congress has the ability to regulate money in politics, drawing a fine line between dollars and free speech.

Rep. Eshoo has pledged that Citizens United will not be the last word on corporate influence on elections. She’s committed to reversing the Supreme Court’s decision and limiting the influence of corporate interests in the electoral process.

Securing Disclosure from Companies Receiving Taxpayer Dollars

In the 112th Congress, Rep. Eshoo advocated for increased transparency in the political activities of companies doing business with the federal government. She offered four different amendments to Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations bills to require private companies receiving public funds to disclose their political spending. The amendments were procedurally blocked. Rep. Eshoo believes that with public funds come public responsibilities, and that taxpayers have a right to know where their money goes.

In her continuing effort to require such disclosure, Rep. Eshoo led her colleagues in writing to President Obama in 2011, 2012, and twice in 2015 (other letter here) in support of an Executive Order requiring all companies receiving taxpayer dollars to fully and completely disclose their political spending, writing that “with public funds come public responsibilities.”

In her letters, Rep. Eshoo cited reports that federal contractors had made large contributions to a leading Presidential Super PAC that have long been considered impermissible under campaign finance and “pay-to-play” laws. Her 2012 letter also coincided with Committee passage of legislation to specifically prohibit this kind of disclosure, which she called the latest example of “Republicans working to keep the lid on transparency and disclosure.”

Transparency in Political Advertising

As the former Ranking Member of the Subcommittee responsible for oversight of the Federal Communications Commission, Rep. Eshoo has led efforts to secure true disclosure of those who fund political advertisements. In 2016, Rep. Eshoo wrote to then-Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Tom Wheeler, urging him to use his existing statutory authority to require the disclosure of the true sponsors of political advertisements. Under current law, groups that hide their donors are only required to disclose the name of their organization at the end of the ad but they do not identify those who provide funding, leaving voters to wonder about the true motivations of those purchasing airtime. The Communications Act of 1934 and the associated FCC regulations require broadcasters to ensure that the “true identity” of the sponsors of political advertisements be shown on the air during the ad, but the FCC currently considers the organization that claims “editorial control” over the ad to be the true sponsor. After writing to Chairman Wheeler, Rep. Eshoo joined with colleagues to introduce the Keeping our Campaigns Honest Act, which would require the FCC to revisit its rules on this issue to ensure that the true sponsors of political advertisements are disclosed.

Rep. Eshoo has also been a leading voice in support of the FCC rulemaking to put existing broadcaster “political files” online, making them more accessible to members of the public. These files are already publicly available, but are paper-based and located in the physical files of individual broadcasters. Click here to read Rep. Eshoo’s April 16, 2012, letter to then-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in support of the rulemaking. On April 27, 2012, the FCC voted to bring the files of the largest broadcasters in major media markets online, with all broadcasters required to comply by 2014.

Public Financing of Campaigns

Rep. Eshoo is a longtime supporter of public financing of elections, because every candidate who has broad grassroots support should be given a fair chance to be elected, not just those with personal wealth or special interests on their side. Rep. Eshoo has cosponsored several bills that would overhaul our outdated presidential campaign public financing system and institute public financing for all federal campaigns. These proposals will give voice to small-dollar donors and allow candidates to spend more time connecting with and engaging voters, rather than fundraising from special interests.

Rep. Eshoo is a cosponsor of H.R. 20, the Government by the People Act, which creates a $25 refundable tax credit for political donations; create a matching fund for small-dollar campaign donations ($150 or less) if the candidate agrees to forgo big money special interests; and create a special fund for candidates who are bombarded with Super PAC ads and dark money spending in the final 60 days of the election. This would amplify the voices of small donors over special interests, and would help ensure that the best, not the richest, candidate can win.

Presidential Tax Transparency Act

Rep. Eshoo is the lead author of bipartisan legislation that would require the president and all future presidential nominees of the major parties to disclose their tax returns to the public.  According to the Tax History Project, every President since 1976 has released their tax returns while in office, but this practice is not required by current law. Donald Trump has broken with this tradition as both a nominee and president. Full release of the President’s tax returns through passage of the Presidential Tax Transparency Act will provide the public with clear information as to his potential conflicts of interest and entanglements with foreign governments and businesses.  A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 74 percent of Americans, including 53 percent of Republicans, believe the President should release his tax returns.

The Presidential Tax Transparency Act requires the President and all major party Presidential nominees to publicly disclose their previous three years of tax returns with the Office of Government Ethics or Federal Election Commission. “Major parties” are defined in the tax code as parties whose candidate received more than 25 percent of the popular vote in the previous presidential election. If a President or candidate fails to disclose their tax returns, the Secretary of the Treasury is required to provide redacted copies for public disclosure.

On April 5, 2017, Rep. Eshoo joined with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and others to announce a discharge petition on the Presidential Tax Transparency Act. A discharge petition requires 218 signatures from Members of the House to force a vote on the bipartisan legislation which requires the President and all future presidents and nominees to publicly disclose their tax returns. A list of Members who have signed on to the discharge petition is available here.

Voting Rights

The 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to clear any changes to their voting laws with the Department of Justice. Thirty-four states now have voter ID requirements, yet an estimated 21 million Americans do not have government-issued identification. Voting is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, and any attempts to limit this right on a discriminatory basis must be struck down.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wisely stated in her dissent of the Court’s Shelby decision that to strike down the Voting Rights Act “when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes [to election laws] is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.” With efforts across the country to restrict the ability of individuals to register and vote, it’s clear that we still need the “umbrella” protection that the Voting Rights Act has provided for 50 years.

Rep. Eshoo is a cosponsor of the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act by creating a new test for which jurisdictions must pre-clear any changes to their voting laws with the Department of Justice. For decades, states with a history of voter discrimination were required to take this step but they have been relieved of this requirement by the Shelby decision. Under the proposed formula in the Voting Rights Amendment Act, preclearance would currently apply to four states: Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. Under the previous formula, nine states were covered.

 

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