DC Moving Ahead on Fair Elections

Council Hears Testimony on Small Dollar Donor Based Program

Posted by Dale Eisman on June 29, 2017


Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn is among the witnesses this morning as the District of Columbia City Council subcommittee considers the Fair Elections Act of 2017, an ordinance that would add the nation’s capital to the list of jurisdictions embracing a small dollar donor based campaign finance system.

The legislation would allow candidates for city offices to run competitive campaigns by relying on a base of small dollar donors, whose contributions would be supplemented by matching funds drawn from a special public account. It is based on similar legislation in New York City and also draws from public financing programs in other localities and the states of Connecticut, Maine and Arizona. The systems are growing in popularity across the country.

Hobert Flynn was instrumental in the passage of the Connecticut bill, which is considered the national model for public financing systems. She told councilmembers at today’s hearing that they should take care to tailor their legislation to fit the needs of the DC community. “There is no one-size-fits-all system,” she said.

“Connecticut’s experience is just one of many successful public funding programs in action across the country,” Hobert Flynn said. “From block grants to vouchers, public funding has taken many forms as different jurisdictions experiment with different programs. The model that would be established by the Fair Elections Act of 2017 is a strong one that combines elements of programs working in other jurisdictions—with eligible candidates receiving an initial block grant of funds, as well as additional public funds to match small-dollar contributions from District residents.”

The Connecticut bill grew out of a scandal that sent former Gov. John Rowland to prison; Hobert Flynn asserted in her prepared testimony that the DC legislation would allow the city to avoid such embarrassments while encouraging women, minorities and others who lack connections to big money interests and campaign donors to run and win elections in the city.

The systems are voluntary for candidates. Participants generally agree to accept contributions of no more than a relatively modest amount – typically $200 or less – which are then matched by grants of public finds. The DC proposal would set a $100 contribution limit with a 5-1 match, so a $100 donation would be worth $600 to the candidate.

Councilmember Charles Allen, who led today’s hearing, noted that the bill is co-sponsored by a majority of his council colleagues and predicted it will pass this year.

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Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Money in Politics

Tags: Empowering Small Donors, Fighting Big Money

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