Dozens of DC Voters, Policy Experts and Advocates Turn Out to Testify in Support of DC Fair Elections.

*DC Fair Elections Coalition*

Nov. 16, 2016

Dozens of DC Voters, Policy Experts and Advocates Turn Out to Testify in Support of DC Fair Elections.

Supporters of the legislation say public financing of elections will restore balance to a broken campaign finance system by freeing candidates to run for office with support from local residents, not wealthy, outside donors.

Washington, DC – With campaign season officially over and a new DC Council scheduled to take office next year, the Judiciary Committee held an important hearing today on the DC Fair Elections legislation, “The Citizens Fair Election Act”. The legislation, supported by DC Attorney General Karl Racine and co-sponsored by Councilmembers David Grosso, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Charles Allen, Elissa Silverman, and Chairman Phil Mendelson, would empower small donors in local races by providing a proportional public match for small dollar contributions.

Testifying at today’s hearing, Ericka Taylor, Executive Director of the DC Fair Budget Coalition, told the committee that “small donor public financing could help end the disproportionate influence of wealthy donors and special interests on our elections. Such a reform would make it possible for our elected officials to spend more time engaging with and listening to the needs of everyday residents and less time dialing for dollars from the elite few.”

At a time when the District is rapidly changing, with rising rent forcing many black and brown families out of the city and the racial income gap continuing to grow, many residents feel like their voices are being drowned out by a flood of big money campaign contributions.

According to Emmanuel Caicedo, Senior Campaign Strategist at Demos, “More than 60% of campaign contributions come from either corporations or out-of-District residents, who are disproportionately white, wealthy and male.” Adding that “they have an outsized influence on making decisions that impact our lives but we can fix this. DC Fair Elections would encourage politicians to cultivate a wider variety of donors and expose them to a wider variety of voices and perspectives.”

Speaking on behalf of DC for Democracy, Kesh Ladduwahetty, addressed how this legislation will level the playing field for candidates and result in better policy outcomes for all. “People generally feel that if government is to be an honest broker that promotes the general welfare, it must offer a space where the money power is constrained and regulated within strict bounds. If government fails to provide that space, the legitimacy of our political institutions will continue to suffer.”

While campaign finance scandals in Washington, DC, once again have made headlines, the problem with the way elections in the District are funded runs deeper than any one scandal or candidate. “Now, more than ever, we need to promote smart, responsible reforms that bring people into our electoral process,” said Zach Weinstein, Democracy Advocate for US PIRG. Going on to say that, “DC Fair Elections addresses this problem in a constructive way, by ensuring that every voter and resident has a powerful voice in our democracy.”

DC Fair Elections would provide a five-to-one public fund match for small private campaign contributions up to $100. Any DC. resident who made a $100 campaign contribution to a participating candidate essentially would be giving $600. To participate in the public financing system, candidates must first demonstrate broad public support by gathering a certain amount of small contributions from DC residents. Once qualified, candidates would be required to refuse contributions in excess of $100 and would receive a five-to-one match for qualifying small contributions.
 
Aquene Freechild, Co-Director of the Democracy Is For People Campaign at Public Citizen, spoke about the need to “put every day District residents at the heart of local elections, restoring balance to a system that’s supposed to represent everyone, but that too often favors big donors and contractor interests.” She pointed to the growing support for DC Fair Elections, telling the committee they expect to pass the legislation next year.

To date, 70 ANCs, community groups, political clubs and advocacy organizations have signed-on in support of the campaign.

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The DC Fair Elections Coalition represents groups from the environmental, labor, economic justice, social justice, faith and good government movements. Our mission is to pass meaningful campaign finance reform in DC to empower everyday residents and make sure every voice is heard in our democracy.