Democrats Try to Thread the Needle on Russia in New Anti-Corruption Platform

Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes says the story of lobbyist influence and the story of Russian influence are part of the same narrative.


Some Democrats are annoyed with the cable news fixation on every twist and turn of the Russia investigation. Others think the party needs more focus on the issue. But Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), the chair of the congressional Democracy Reform Task Force, thinks he’s found a way to thread the needle.

“I mean you can basically say ‘Look, nobody should be interfering with our democracy, with our elections,” Sarbanes said in an interview with The Daily Beast on Monday. “So foreigners shouldn’t be doing it, special interests shouldn’t be doing it, big money shouldn’t be doing it. It belongs to you, the people. It’s your campaign, it’s your politics, it’s your government.”

Sarbanes, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), unveiled a broad anti-corruption platform on Monday meant to serve as a supplement to the Democrats’ economic messaging in the “Better Deal” platform. Riffing on President Trump’s own successful slogan “drain the swamp,” the platform is intended to fix the campaign finance system, strengthen ethics laws and facilitate better access to the ballot box for every American voter. It harkens back to a successful messaging platform of 2006, a year in which Democrats won majorities in both the House and Senate.

Putting this out now, six months ahead of 2018’s midterm elections, accomplishes two things in Sarbanes’ eyes. It provides an additional incentive for voters to consider a changing of the guard in the nation’s capital and holds members accountable at the same time. Should Democrats win a majority in November, in part because of this messaging, it will be incumbent upon them to pass legislation in the first 100 days that accomplishes these goals.

“This reform message is not something you just wear for the evening, this is something you own,” Sarbanes said.

And it’s broad enough in scope, Democrats hope, that it provides an anecdote to the drumbeat of stories about corruption, from foreign and domestic sources.

“Every new story is a story about how somebody else is manipulating the government that should belong to the people,” Sarbanes told The Daily Beast. Voters, he said “don’t have to parse through the latest story on why they’re being disrespected or exploited or taken advantage of. Because they can seek refuge in something that’s positive and affirmative that restores their place in their own democracy.”