This week in wins: House moves to protect American elections from foreign interference

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As October winds down, progressives score several wins, including successfully defending employee access to birth control.

A federal court ruled this week to protect access to birth control, millions will be invested in Pennsylvania’s election system, animal cruelty is now a federal offense, and progressive stalwart Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg won a million dollar prize usually reserved for philosophers — and will donate it all to charity.

As a tumultuous October draws to a close, take a moment and appreciate the week’s progressive victories.

House Democrats pass bill protecting elections from foreign interference

On Wednesday, the House passed the Strengthening Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy Act (SHIELD), which requires political campaigns to report when foreign actors offer them assistance. The SHIELD Act, sponsored in the House by Administration Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) passed 227-181, in a vote split mostly by party. The act also mandates that the regulations concerning online political advertisements be made as stringent as radio and television ads.

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"The 2020 federal elections are fast approaching. Public confidence and trust in our elections is of the utmost importance," Lofgren said before the vote. "Free and fair elections are at the core of what it means to live in a democracy like ours."

The special council's report found that the Trump campaign had at least 272 contacts with "Russia-linked operatives." The SHIELD Act would have required them to report each one as they happened.

Pennsylvania is about invest $90 million in voting access and security

Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf reached a deal this week with state Republicans on Senate Bill 421, the most ambitious attempt at state-wide election reform in decades. The bill left committee on Tuesday, and is expected to pass in the state House and Senate. Among other long-advocated-for improvements, SB 421 will provide the state with $90 million for new, more secure voting machines, push the voter registration deadline closer to Election Day, allow any voter to request an absentee ballot, and extend absentee ballot deadlines. 

While not the worst state for voters, Pennsylvania was ranked 31st in the nation for ease of voting.

The bill is scheduled to take effect ahead of the 2020 elections.

Court rules that employers have to provide birth control despite religious objections

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that non-religiously affiliated employers had to cover their employees' birth control. Churches have long been exempt from providing employees access to contraception, but a Department of Health and Human Services regulation permitted any employer claiming "sincerely held religious beliefs" to do the same.

This week's decision comes on the heels of a California federal district court ruling enjoining the 2017 HHS regulations after a lawsuit filed by 13 states and the District of Columbia.

While not a final ruling, the Ninth Circuit has continued to ensure that non-religious employees have access to birth control. 

New York governor signs law restricting nonprofits from endorsing, donating to candidates

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation Wednesday preventing religious organizations and nonprofits from endorsing or donating to political campaigns. The bill codifies the Johnson Amendment, a piece of the federal tax code which does the same. However, the provision has come under threat in recent years; Trump promised he would "get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment" in 2017, and later that year signed an executive order loosening it. 

"For too long we have listened to the Trump administration threaten to remove common sense protections prohibiting tax exempt organizations from engaging in inappropriate political activities," said Cuomo. "New Yorkers have a right to free and fair elections, and this law will further protect our democracy from unjustified interferences once and for all."

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wins $1 million dollar prize

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was selected Wednesday for the million-dollar Berggruen Prize. The prize, established in 2016 by investor and philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen, is awarded to a thinker who has "profoundly shaped human self-understanding and advancement." Ginsburg, chosen from a 500-nominee pool, is the first non-philosopher awarded the prize. Previous winners have included Martha Nussbaum, distinguished professor at the University of Chicago, and Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor.

"Few in our era have done more to bring vital philosophical ideas to fruition in practical affairs than Ruth Bader Ginsburg," said Kwame Anthony Appiah, prize committee chair and professor at New York University. "She has been both a visionary and a strategic leader in securing equality, fairness, and the rule of law not only in the realm of theory, but in social institutions and the lives of individuals."

Ginsburg plans to donate the prize money to charity. 

Animal cruelty is now a federal offense

The House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation Tuesday making animal cruelty a federal offense. Previously, most animal cruelty legislation had been enacted at the state level. Two Florida reps., Democrat Ted Deutch and Republican Vern Buchanan, introduced the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act in January of this year. 

"Animal rights activists have stood up for living things that do not have a voice. Law enforcement officers have sought a federal overlay to help them stop animal abusers who are likely to commit acts of violence against people," said Deutch in a statement. "And animal lovers everywhere know this is simply the right thing to do."

The bill now heads to the Senate, where Buchanan said he was "optimistic it will pass."