There’s some good news for democracy this morning from a place where we haven’t seen much of it lately: Washington, D.C.
Running for a second term, Mayor Muriel Bowser on Tuesday signed an ordinance that gives new clout to small dollar donors and invites non-traditional candidates to enter city politics.
Bowser said public support for the plan, which uses public funds to supplement small dollar donations from individuals, convinced her to give up her longstanding opposition.
“Over the past few weeks at budget engagement forums and community meetings across the District, residents have shown up to share their belief that the #FairElectionsDC Act would strengthen our democracy. I have heard them and I have been moved by their passion,” Bowser tweeted.
Bowser won the mayor’s office in 2014 by contrasting herself with then-Mayor Vincent Gray, whose term was marred by a federal investigation of illegal fundraising by allies who set up a “shadow” campaign on his behalf. The city has a long history of scandals involving money in politics; in just the last five years, five DC Council members – all now retired – have been felled by ethical shortcomings, including accepting bribes and violating campaign finance laws.
The City Council passed the fair elections ordinance unanimously in January, following a long campaign by local democracy activists. Bowser did not include funds to implement the new campaign finance system in her initial budget proposal, though it was clear that council members had the votes to override her.
The program is project to cost $3.8 million in 2020, its first year, and $7.9 million in 2021; the city’s total budget for the current year is $13.9 billion.
The new law is modeled on successful campaign finance plans in states including Connecticut and Arizona and cities including New York. It invites candidates to swear off large contributions from political action groups and wealthy individuals and to fund their campaigns instead with small dollar donations supplemented by grants from a special public fund.
The programs have a track record of allowing people from outside the political establishment to run competitive and often successful campaigns, breaking the clout of large dollar donors. Common Cause is lobbying for similar proposals in several states and localities.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics