January 19, 2006

TO:
  Members of the U.S. Senate
FROM:
  Kay J. Maxwell, President
RE:
  Democracy Issues in the Second Session

A number of issues pending before Congress go to the heart of the functioning of American democracy.

First among these are the USA PATRIOT Act and the protection of civil liberties. The current extension of the Patriot Act expires on February 3. We believe that the conference version of the reauthorization does not adequately address civil liberties concerns raised since passage of the Act in 2001. It is critical that provisions passed by the Senate, which reestablished some of the needed checks and balances, be included in a final reauthorization. These include providing for adequate judicial oversight in “sneak and peek” searches and establishing real safeguards when law enforcement acquires information about Americans, such as medical, banking or library records.

Revelations about domestic surveillance without court warrant or oversight implicate vital constitutional protections for American citizens. We urge you to push for in-depth investigation of domestic surveillance activities and for swift and effective corrective action.

Lobby reform is clearly needed to reform the gift, travel and employment relationships among Members of Congress, lobbyists and lobbying firms. However, without fundamental reform of campaign finance loopholes, lobby reform will fail. We urge you to support strict limits on fundraising by lobbyists and lobbying firms as part of any lobby reform effort. We also ask you to support renewal and reform of the presidential public financing system.

The League strongly urges you to reauthorize the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act this year. Section 5, the pre-clearance provision, and Section 203, the language assistance provision, have been effective, but they are still needed. Our nation must continue to provide a strong deterrent and the necessary oversight against persistent voting rights violations.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission plays a vital role in election reform efforts in the states. We urge you to provide full funding for the EAC.

This Congress has an opportunity to establish a strong record of support for representative democracy. The League of Women Voters asks you to support the reforms that are needed to fully achieve this promise.