League testifies on four campaign finance bills

Linda Beebe Testifying at the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety

Linda Beebe Testifying at the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety

Testimony before the Hon. Charles Allen 

Council of the District of Columbia Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety 

 

RE: Campaign Finance Transparency and Accountability Amendment Act of 2017 (B22-0008), Comprehensive Campaign Finance Amendment Act of 2017 (B22-0051), Clean Elections Amendment Act of 2017, (B22-0032), and Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2017 (B22-0107)

July 10, 2017

Good Morning. My name is Linda Beebe, currently the President of the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia.  I am here today to speak for the League in support of your passage of strong campaign finance reform.

The League of Women Voters is a citizens’ organization that has fought since 1920 to improve our government and to engage citizens in the decisions that have an impact on their lives.  Our mission is to encourage informed and active participation in government, work to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influence public policy through education and advocacy.

Since the early 1970s, the League of Women Voters has studied and developed positions that support campaign finance reform.  We have sought ways to combat undue influence in the election process and to eliminate the influence of “dark money.”  In the 2014-2016 biennium, the League of Women Voters conducted a national study of Money in Politics and developed a set of positions that resonate strongly with the bills you are considering today.  Among our major concerns are disclosure and stopping the Super PACs. For more on our findings, please see the resource section of this testimony. 

Today you are considering the merits of four bills aimed at improving our democratic elections processes.  Two of them—B22-0032, the Clean Elections Amendment Act of 2017, introduced by Councilmembers Grosso, Silverman, Cheh, Allen, and Nadeau, and B22-0107, the Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2017, introduced by Councilmembers Bonds, Allen, and Grosso—seem to us straight forward improvements that could be enacted without much debate. 

The Clean Elections Act would clarify when expenditures are considered contributions and allow only individuals to contribute to political committees. 

The Campaign Finance Reform Act would require consent for the use of someone’s image in campaign literature; most importantly it would require candidates to retire campaign debts within six months.  We would hope this bill will lead to greater accounting for contributions and expenses.

The other two bills go to the heart of the problems with big money in politics.  The Campaign Finance Transparency and Accountability Amendment Act (B22-0008), introduced by Chairman Mendelson for Attorney General Karl Racine, seeks to assure independent expenditures, prevent both individuals and organizations from hiding behind “dark money” groups, and close the loophole that allows PACs to collect unlimited donations in non-election years.  

The Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act (B22-0051), introduced by Council Members Gray and Trayon White, addresses many of the same issues.  The bill would establish restrictions on bundled contributions and sets forth disclosure requirements.

Both bills seek to eliminate the District’s long running reputation for being a pay-to-play jurisdiction, a place where developers gain city contracts and tax abatements with political contributions.  Investigative reporters and public interest groups have documented the connections between contributions and contracts and the recurring habits of Limited Liability Corporations bundling contributions from family and friends.  We need to hold both corporations and their executives and families accountable for contributions.

In our reading the bills differ primarily in the limits they would set on contributions.  We hope that the Judiciary Committee will reach agreement on combining the two bills into one that the full Council will pass in the very near term.   Running for office costs money, but money should not be permitted to buy elections.  We want to make it possible for all candidates to have equitable access to funding and for the maximum number of citizens to participate in elections.

All year you will find League of Women Voters members working across the city to register voters and to encourage them to vote.  Regrettably, all too often, we meet residents who say they see no value in voting because their vote won’t count—it’s the big money that counts. We believe that the bills before you can go a long way toward restoring public faith and trust in our democracy.  And we believe that our nation’s capital should be in the forefront of reform that protects that democracy.

We hope that you will take positive action on these bills. Thank you for your attention. 

 

Resources: 

Where We Stand; the Position Statements of the League of Women Voters in the District of Columbia.”  https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56e6cad12fe13155d5243018/t/577456dee6f2e1176cd92f58/1467242208504/2009WhereWeStandWeb.pdf

http://www.lwv.org/content/impact-issues. 

http://lwv.org/content/money-politics