February 25, 2016
by Linda Beebe
The League has long supported public financing of political campaigns. Our position on the issue remains unchanged since March 1974: The League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia supports public financing of local election campaign expenses. We favor the matching-end concept of controlling the public share of election campaign costs.
Unfortunately, the District has been known as a “pay-to-play” jurisdiction. WAMU reporter Patrick Madden, speaking at our Fall luncheon, noted the relationship between large campaign contributions and contract awards. And the LWVUS national Money in Politics study demonstrated the power of big money to corrupt.
The DC Fair Elections Coalition, a group of more than 50 organizations, was created to support the passage of B21-0509, the Citizens Fair Election Program Amendment Act of 2015. Councilmembers Grosso, Nadeau, Cheh, Allen, Silverman, and Chairman Mendelson introduced the bill on December 1, 2015, and it has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. The bill is intended to empower small donors and to reduce the influence of special interests in DC elections. It would apply to candidates for the Mayor, Council, and Attorney General positions.
Candidates would qualify for matching funds by collecting a certain number of contributions of $100 or less from DC residents. The program would provide a base grant and then matching funds at a 5:1 ratio on subsequent contributions. Candidates who agree to participate could not accept contributions larger than $100 nor could they coordinate with independent expenditure groups. The total amount of funds a candidate could receive would be capped at the average cost of a winning campaign.
Strong oversight is built into the legislation. The bill would eliminate the Office of Campaign Finance and establish the Citizens Fair Election Oversight Office within the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to administer the program.
The demand for such a system is growing nationwide. After New York City adopted a small donor plan with a 6:1 ratio, candidates got 61 percent of their funds from small donors in 2013. That year 92 percent of the candidates participated. Similar programs have been adopted in Maine and Seattle, as well as Montgomery County, Maryland.
To learn more about the Coalition’s work, see www.dcfairelections.com, There are many ways we as League members and as individual citizens can participate in this endeavor. The easiest is to go to the website and sign on as a Citizen Co-sponsor, that is, sign the
online petition to Council to pass the bill. On the same page, you can write an email in your own words that will automatically be sent to your ward representative and the five at-large members of the Council.
The Coalition has an ambitious agenda geared toward getting a hearing in July and passage of the bill in the fall. To accomplish that, they need to people participate in other ways. For example:
- Meeting with your ANC to encourage support for passage of the bill
- Meeting with your Civic Association to encourage support
- Collecting names on paper petitions
- Collecting hand-written letters of support
- Writing to Kenyan McDuffie urging the scheduling of the hearing in the Judiciary Committee
- Writing or calling members of the Judiciary Committee urging that the bill be approved for referral to the Committee of the Whole.
Judiciary Committee members include Councilmembers Jack Evans, Mary Cheh, Kenyan McDuffie, LaRuby May, and Anita Bonds. League members who have connections with any council members are encouraged to write them directly. If you would like to get engaged in other ways, please contact us. The Coalition has developed many sample communications that are available to us to use.