Embarrassed by decades of scandal and pushed by citizens who’ve had their fill of it, Washington, D.C.’s City Council moved today to join a growing list of local and state governments in revamping the way political campaigns are financed by shifting power to small dollar donors and away from big money interests.
The council unanimously backed a proposed Fair Elections Act that would allow candidates for mayor and other local offices to pay for their campaigns with a combination of small dollar gifts from individuals and grants from a special public fund. Final passage of the legislation is expected early in February
To qualify for the new program, candidates for mayor would agree to forego donations of more than $200; gifts to council candidates would be capped at $100 for those seeking at-large seats and $50 for those seeking to represent one of the city’s eight wards.
The DC plan would match those gifts at a rate of 2-1 until candidates qualify for a spot on the ballot and 5-1 after that. That means a $50 donation could be worth as much as $300, giving candidates an incentive to focus their attention on small dollar donors rather than big money interests.
The proposal is modeled after campaign finance systems used in states including Connecticut, Arizona and Maine and in cities including New York and Los Angeles. Wherever they’ve been implemented, the programs have allowed people who lack the resources and/or political connections typically required for successful campaigns to run and win.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has announced that she will not include the $5 million needed to finance the program in her annual budget proposal; however, the council’s vote today suggests that supporters of the plan have the muscle to add the money when they consider the budget this spring.
The DC vote follows similar action last month by the legislature in Suffolk County, NY, a New York City suburb.
“Americans expect and deserve politicians who are responsive to all of their constituents, and programs like these give small dollar donors a voice that can be heard over the deep-pocketed special interests that bankroll most campaigns,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause.
“One need look no further than the tax bill passed last month in Washington to see Congress rewarding their biggest donors while ignoring massive public disgust with the legislation. Citizens across the country are standing up to demand a seat at the table on the local level and politicians are beginning to respond.”
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics