“Fair Elections” plan gets DC hearing

"Fair Elections" plan gets DC hearing

By Savannah Thieme

A “fair elections” system for financing Washington, D.C.’s municipal election campaigns would help reduce corruption in city government and encourage more minority candidates to seek office, Common Cause leaders told DC Council members on Thursday.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said a public financing system in New York City has increased minority participation in city government; in nearby Connecticut, the number of uncontested races dropped by 41 percent after a fair elections system was adopted, added Senior Vice President Karen Hobert Flynn.

Fair Elections programs allow candidates who agree to accept only small donations from individuals to supplement those contributions with grants from a special public fund. In general, a $20 donation from an individual will generate three, four of five times that amount in matching public funds for the candidate.

At a time when aspiring candidates can find their ability to run for office instantly blocked by financial restrictions, campaign finance reform is a serious issue. Several of Thursday’s witnesses testified that the very first thing a potential candidate must do is raise enough money to even be considered by party insiders.

Public financing equalizes the playing field for both sides — those who want to run, and those who want to help others get elected.

Common Cause figured prominently in New York City’s adoption of fair elections, where an effective system has existed since the 1980s. New York’s legislature is considering a similar statewide program.