U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine. Credit: Gabor Degre | BDN

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed HR 1, the Democratic-backed election reform bill that includes an amendment from Maine 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden providing the rules for public financing for congressional races. The floor debate over that amendment Friday triggered a heated exchange between Golden and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

The sweeping measure seeks to overturn barriers to voting, reduce the influence of big money in politics and impose stricter ethics rules on federal officials. Golden’s amendment would bar candidates who have violated campaign finance laws from participating in a program that would match small-dollar donations with federal funds. Golden assured House colleagues that the measure would not be funded by general taxes.

“These are fines, penalties and settlements for corporate malfeasance, tax crimes and other breaches of the public trust,” says Golden. “That money can be used to insure that everyday people who don’t have a network of deep money around them, just everyday working people, will be given the opportunity to compete in a campaign.”

Golden told colleagues that Maine voters have not only supported public financing, they’ve strengthened the law by citizen initiative to mitigate the impact of dark money in campaigns. He says voters want their elected representatives to focus on making policy decisions, not raising money for the next election.

But House minority leader McCarthy branded the measure as a “democratic-socialist” attempt to undermine traditional politics. He predicted that candidates would run for office to take advantage of the money — $6 from the federal government for every dollar raised from private sources.

“This bill would allow political candidates to profit off actually running for office from the American taxpayers dime,” McCarthy says. “Think, just think of the individual that wants to run for office who wants to spew hate because the taxpayers are going to pay for it.”

McCarthy argued that the bill, as amended, is actually a wish list of measures that Democrats are hoping will help defeat President Trump in 2020. Golden fired back that McCarthy was politicizing an proposal that is really aimed at election fairness, and that protecting elections is part of defending democracy.

“I fought in two wars for this country in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I reject this socialist rhetoric,” Golden says. “I am an American, Democrats are Americans. Republicans are Americans. We need to put this hateful speech behind us and talk about how we can work together.”

While the measure received strong support in the House, passing 234 to 193, it’s unlikely it will win final passage. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will not bring the bill to a vote in the Senate. And the White House has indicated if it somehow does make it to the President’s desk, he will veto it.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.