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D.C. City Council Introduces Fair Elections to Restore Balance of Power to Everyday Residents

March 21, 2017 | Laura Friedenbach

Today, with the introduction of Fair Elections legislation, D.C. city council members took a great step towards limiting the influence of big money and special interests in District elections while amplifying the voices of everyday residents.

The DC Fair Elections Coalition, made up of more than 70 groups from the environmental, labor, economic justice, social justice, faith, and money-in-politics movements, is working to pass Fair Elections in order to create meaningful campaign finance reform in D.C. to empower everyday resident and make sure every voice is heard in our democracy.

Fair Elections would give city candidates the opportunity to run for office free of big money by instead relying on small donations matched with limited public funds at a five-to-one rate. If passed, this legislation would allow council members to dedicate more time to the needs of everyday District residents, and less time catering to the wealthy donors and contractors who currently dominate D.C. elections.

Introduced by Councilmembers David Grosso and Charles Allen, the D.C. Fair Elections bill is already backed by ten out of the thirteen of D.C.’s council members. Councilmembers Robert White, Kenyan McDuffie, Trayon White, Sr., Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, and Phil Mendelson co-introduced the bill while Councilmember Anita Bonds is a co-sponsor.

Here are some council members discussing their support for Fair Elections:

“Public financing of campaigns would give greater voice to all voters and reduce the disproportionate influence of big donors in D.C. politics,” Grosso said. “We must ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in and positively influence the political process, regardless of how much or how little they are able to contribute, or if they do not contribute at all.”

Allen added, “The Fair Elections bill is about putting more power in the hands of D.C. residents. Changing the way we fund campaigns in a way that prioritizes the low-dollar donor means candidates can spend more time focused on their constituents and neighbors, rather than chasing big-dollar donors.”

“Democracy is about everyone having a voice in government, not just special interests with deep pockets,” said Nadeau. “This bill reduces the influence of special interests and gives more power and influence to the people of the District, where it belongs.”

Groups in the DC Fair Elections Coalition responded praising council members for the introduction of the Fair Elections legislation:

“No matter your income or what neighborhood you live in, everyone – not just big donors – deserves to have an equal voice in District politics,” said Susan Mottet, state legislative director of Every Voice. “By recentering our elections around small donors, the Fair Elections bill will enable candidates to run without the support of big money and will make elected officials accountable to everyone in the District, not just those who can afford to make big contributions.”

“Small-donor public financing of elections has seen great success in New York City and the consensus is overwhelming that we need similar legislation in D.C.,” said Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign. “A local poll found that 80 percent of D.C. residents support public financing. Now it is time for the Council to swiftly pass the bill.”

“Now more than ever we need to bring people into the political process and the D.C. Fair Elections Act will do just that,” said Valerie Ervin, senior adviser of Working Families Party.  “This legislation will empower voters and free candidates from the burden of spending the majority of their time dialing for dollars, and instead would allow candidates to spend their time talking to voters. By changing the way that elections are funded, we are putting the voters of the District of Columbia first, and helping to ensure that they are setting their own agenda.”

“We’ve spoken to voters and residents about this innovative reform in every ward,” said Raquel Jackson-Stone, democracy fellow with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “D.C. residents get it – by investing in our democracy, we can open up opportunities and amplify the voices of women, people of color, low-income residents, young people and other groups underrepresented in our elections.”

“There is a widespread feeling among D.C. voters that elected officials are more responsive to the concerns of big business than to voters, particularly low-income people of color,” said Monica Kamen, co-director of the Fair Budget Coalition. “In a jurisdiction where we are already disenfranchised, it’s important that we preserve the integrity of our elections to ensure that our elected officials truly represent the people. Small-donor public finance makes sure that candidates prioritize constituents over donors and that votes speak louder than dollars.”

“There is no more critical question than whose voice carries weight in our democracy. Presently, our big money system defines the weight of our voices by the size of our wallets,” said Emmanuel Caicedo, senior campaign strategist of Demos. “Public financing – like the Fair Elections Act – will broaden the donor pool and ensure that everyone has an equal say in our democracy. We call on the D.C. Council to pass this legislation that will strengthen our democracy.”

“The Fair Elections bill will empower ordinary D.C. residents and level the political playing field,” said Keshini Ladduwahetty of DC for Democracy. “Right now, political donors in D.C. are disproportionately older, wealthier and far more likely to be white men than the population of the District as a whole. In fact, too many contributions come from big developers with deep pockets and folks living outside of Washington altogether. Public financing will strengthen candidates with deep community support and force successful campaigns to fundraise at block parties instead of black tie dinners.”

 “The same big-money fossil fuel corporations polluting our air, water and climate are also polluting our democracy with dirty money. The Fair Elections legislation will help clean up our environment by cleaning up our politics,” said Mark Rodeffer, chair of the D.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“When the average large donor contributes more money in one cycle than the average working family could find in a life-threatening emergency, we are in trouble,” said Eugene Puryear, leader of Justice First and member of ONE DC. “Our current campaign finance system favors the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and the oppressed. This legislation is a step towards people power, and away from corporate money power.”

“The U.S. League of Women Voters has supported public campaign financing for federal elections since 1974. Naturally, the D.C. League of Women Voters wants this option for District elections as well,” said Linda Beebe, president of D.C. League of Women Voters.

Silverman added, “I’m excited to co-introduce the Fair Elections bill again, and I’m thrilled to see even more Council support. Public financing is crucial to removing a big barrier to entry for many interested in running for office: money. What this bill does is allow candidates to compete on a fairer playing field, and that will increase voter participation and people power in local elections.

“We need to increase public confidence in the integrity of our elections, and we need District residents to feel it’s their voice and vote – not simply money – that matters. The Fair Elections Act of 2017 helps accomplish that by encouraging candidates to appeal to individual voters, rather than focusing their attention on wealthy individuals, corporations and PACs.

“This legislation is also a crucial complement to the Clean Elections Act of 2017 I introduced earlier this year to ban corporate contributions to campaigns. I look forward to continuing to work with Councilmember Grosso and my Council colleagues to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform in the District soon.”

Laura Friedenbach

Laura is Every Voice's Deputy Communications Director

Every Voice and Every Voice Center have recently come under new leadership. We will be expanding and diversifying our efforts to promote a democracy that works for all of us and responds to the voices of everyday people. Watch this space for specifics later in 2019.