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WASHINGTON, DC - A coalition of D.C. residents, joined by supportive Councilmembers, gathered at the Wilson building on Tuesday to release a report making the case for reforms to limit the influence of big money in District elections. The report, by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), found that in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, more than 60% of campaign contributions to D.C. elected officials came from corporations and out-of-D.C. donors.
“In our democracy, the voices of every constituent deserve to be heard in the halls of power. Unfortunately, our current campaign finance system instead gives large donors and special interests a megaphone to drown out the voices of everyday people.” said Zach Weinstein, Democracy Advocate with U.S. PIRG. “That’s why we need solutions like the Citizens Fair Elections Act that allow candidates to rely on their constituents, rather than special interests, for support.”
The Citizens Fair Elections Act, currently pending before the D.C. Council, would provide public matching funds for candidates who accept a voluntary contribution limit of $100. Only contributions from D.C. residents would be matched, and candidates would have to demonstrate broad public support to qualify for the program.
According to today’s report, D.C. residents giving less than $100 accounted for only 5% of the campaign funding for D.C. elected officials in 2012 and 2014. Under the Citizens Fair Election Act, the report finds that D.C. donors giving $100 or less would have accounted for nearly two thirds of total fundraising when the proposed public matching funds are factored in, had all winning candidates participated.
The D.C. Fair Elections Coalition, a diverse and broad group of more than 60 organizations, is supporting the Fair Elections bill and joined U.S. PIRG to release the report.
“Small donor public financing could help end the disproportionate influence of wealthy donors and special interests on our elections,” said Ericka Taylor, Executive Director of the Fair Budget Coalition. “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.”
In New York City, a similar program helped to build a more diverse and inclusive local government. There, a small donor matching system led to more contributions from communities of color and an overall increase in the number of small donors contributing to local candidates.
"With the cost of living in DC rising dramatically and the city's development approach leaving too many of us behind, the DC Council must take swift action to level the playing field on behalf of the city's residents and working families,” said Keshini Ladduwahetty, President of DC for Democracy. “Without small donor democracy, ordinary people will increasingly question who their representatives are actually representing. We urge the DC Council to hold a hearing and vote in favor of this important legislation by the end of this year."
“Campaign donations are a necessary, though sometimes complicated aspect of politics. In the campaign finance landscape, we face a situation where things are out of balance as big donors tend to outweigh the ability of others’ to influence campaigns. I introduced the Citizens Fair Election Program Amendment Act of 2015 to help restore that balance,” said Councilmember David Grosso. “Establishing a publicly funded campaign system will enable candidates to rely less on big donors, resulting in more individuals making small dollar donations to campaigns, and in turn helping to not only boost civic engagement but also hold candidates accountable to the constituents they are seeking to serve.”
“Fair elections mean putting the power back into the hands of the individual citizens and continuing the work of building a culture of public accountability in District government,” said Councilmember Charles Allen. “As a candidate, I refused to take corporate and PAC contributions, and as a Councilmember, I believe elected officials should hold themselves to a higher standard and ensure voters have 100% accountability and transparency for every dollar put into our elections.”
"As long as we continue to fund our campaigns with donations from the highest bidders we will continue to get policies and outcomes that cater to the wealthy and well connected. Our political system is out of whack. The Citizen's Fair Elections Program will restore balance to our democracy and produce public policy that leans toward the will of the people,” said Delvone Michael, executive Director of DC Working Families.
“DC residents are tired of a system that plays more and more to the interests of contractors and wealthy donors,” concluded Weinstein. “This legislation represents an opportunity for the district to lead on an issue of national importance, and help build a democracy of, by, and for the people right here at home.”
“Our current system rewards the candidate who gets the biggest checks - but calling big donors is not going to bring out the voice of the mom losing her family’s longtime home or the young man trying to land his first job. Fair elections flips the script to put everyday people, not the big donors, at the center of DC politics. It’s time the DC Council passed it,” said Aquene Freechild, co-Director of the Democracy is for People campaign at Public Citizen.
“This report, together with our broad coalition of community groups and the 80% of District voters who want fair elections, makes clear the need for the Citizens Fair Elections Act” said Matthew Gravatt, Chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club. “If we get big money out of the equation, we can amplify community voices and reduce the power of special interests, polluters, and mega-donors in local elections. The Council and the Mayor should listen to DC voters and do all in their power to pass common-sense small donor empowerment programs without delay.”
U.S. PIRG, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.
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 D.C. to empower everyday residents and make sure every voice is heard in our democracy.
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