June 9, 2016
New Report: 76 Percent of Contributions in Current D.C. Election Come From Maxed-Out Donors
40 Percent of Identifiable Funding Comes From the Real Estate and Construction Sectors
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Powerful corporate interests – especially in the real estate and construction sectors – dominate the funding of District of Columbia elections, a new Public Citizen report shows.
The report, “District Development,” shows that incumbents in particular rely on corporations and wealthy donors to write checks for the maximum permissible amount ($500 for ward-level candidates and $1,000 for at-large candidates) to keep them in office: 81 percent of incumbents’ total fundraising came from donors contributing the maximum amount. The total amount of fundraising coming from maxed-out donors for both incumbents and their challengers is 76 percent.
“The maximum contribution amounts are far beyond what the average District resident can afford. And they are vastly out of reach for the one in five D.C. residents living below the poverty line,” said Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign and author of the report. “We are desperately in need of a small donor public financing system that would flip the incentive structure and allow residents to participate in District politics no matter how much they earn.”
The Citizens Fair Election Program Amendment Act (B21-0509) would incentivize candidates to spend more time with everyday District residents, rather than the biggest donors. If passed, it would match every dollar given by District residents with $5 of limited public funds for candidates who agree to accept only contributions of $100 or less.
Public Citizen also examined which sectors campaign contributions are coming from by analyzing contributions from businesses directly, as well as from identifiable board members, managers, employees, PACs and family members of business owners and management. More than half (57 percent) of the campaign funding in this year’s election comes from a small group of corporate interests in the real estate, construction, law and consulting sectors.
The D.C. Council is responsible for approving all multiyear contracts and contracts over a million dollars. While federal law prohibits corporations from donating directly to candidates, D.C. law does not.Several of the top corporate funders have contracts with the District and likely have an interest in future contracting opportunities. The report lists the top 15 funders of the current election when contributions from shared addresses and family members are included: well-known road contractor Fort Myer, Willco Construction, Blue Skye Construction, Colonial Parking and real estate and sports conglomerate Lerner Enterprises top the list. (Data is from the Office of Campaign Finance reports for the current cycle −June 12, 2015 through March 10, 2016)
“A fair elections system would make it possible for candidates to prioritize everyday District residents – who cannot write big checks or hire lobbyists – and still run successful campaigns,” Freechild said. “In the face of candidate dependency on large contributions from corporate interests, fair elections reform offers an opportunity to change District politics for the better.”
Fair elections systems are used by candidates in New York, Maine, New Mexico and Connecticut. Montgomery County, Md., recently funded its new fair elections system for the next campaign cycle.