In a time of historic wealth inequality and a general election that saw record campaign spending, a new political organization is on a mission to drastically reduce the role of big money in politics and expand voting rights.
Un-PAC, the self-proclaimed “PAC to end all PACs,” wants to bring democratic reform to the forefront of political discourse at college campuses across the country. According to an Un-PAC press release, its first initiative is to promote the passage of the For The People Act.
“Un-PAC's first campaign is to pass H.R.1/S.1, the For The People Act during the 117th Congress, without letting the filibuster stand in their way,” the organization said. “Un-PAC is the first and only student organizing group in the country that is focusing specifically on democracy reform and this legislation.”
The bill would require states to offer same-day voter registration in federal elections, establish election day as a federal holiday, expand opportunities to vote by mail, make voting more accessible for disabled and overseas citizens, impose stricter limits on foreign lobbying and require super PACs to publicly disclose their donors, among other provisions.
Although it seeks to appeal to students across the political spectrum, Un-PAC was built from the remains of the Students for Bernie program that mobilized students in support of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.
The Daily Wildcat spoke to Nick Mortimore, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry at the University of Arizona, who is also an Un-PAC student representative and was previously involved with Students for Bernie at the UA. He described some of the work UA students have done for Un-PAC, which has already seen some promising results.
“We've been working with a few other student groups on campus, and we've been making calls and contacting the senators’ offices — Senator [Kyrsten] Sinema's office primarily, reaching out to her as much and as frequently as possible,” Mortimore said. “We've gotten a response back from her that she does intend to support the bill.”
Sinema is a key person of interest for Un-PAC because she has previously voiced her opposition to abolishing the filibuster, which will likely be used by Republican senators against the For The People Act to block the bill from passing. The senator’s vote in favor of filibuster reform can prove crucial for the successful passage of H.R.1.
Despite its progressive roots, Mortimore said he believes that Un-PAC will find favor on both sides of the aisle because of its bipartisan call to uphold the integrity of elections.
“I see more conservative-minded people frequently talk about the problems of corruption in government, and I agree with them that corruption is an essential issue, and I want to work with conservatives and anyone really, to make sure that we have equal power, equal say, in our country,” Mortimore said. “This is an issue of American citizens versus American power and American elite. I think our objective and our mission is to invite everyone who has a say in this country to be on board with making sure that we can all exercise our rights, and all have an equal say in what is done in government.”
H.R.1 also has the potential to mitigate partisan gridlock caused by private interest lobbying.
Shana Gallagher, executive director of Un-PAC and the mind behind Students for Bernie, co-leads the organization with two other alumni of the Sanders campaign. She told the Daily Wildcat that democratic reform is a necessary prerequisite to delivering on other critical policy priorities.
“Solutions to every single problem that our generation cares about are blocked by our broken democracy,” Gallagher said via email. “If we want to see action on climate change, access to affordable healthcare, and student debt forgiveness, we need to get democracy reform done first. The For The People Act is the closest thing to a silver bullet that we've seen in our lifetimes that would make actually our government functional and accountable, and would dramatically increase and maintain the political power of our generation so that our Congress works for us, not just for their wealthy donors!”
For Mortimore, Un-PAC is about more than passing key electoral reform — it’s about holding America up to the high standard of the democratic principles upon which it was founded.
“I feel like this country has long suffered from an inability for people to participate. If you look at other modern democracies around the world, voter participation in those countries is much higher than it is in the United States,” Mortimore said. “I think it's sort of our duty to improve our systems and really be that Statue of Liberty, that sign that we are what it means to be a democracy.”
Students interested in getting involved with Un-PAC at the UA can contact Mortimore for more information.
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