D.C. Council Passes Public Campaign Financing

Steve Burns


WASHINGTON – (WMAL) The D.C. Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to offer public money to local campaigns, a program proponents say will help transform local politics by giving more of a voice to small-money donors in a city that often sees large contributions from a select few companies. The District would join a few dozen other localities, including Montgomery County, in offering publicly financed campaigns.

The Fair Elections Act would provide public money for Council, Mayor, or Attorney General candidates that have met a minimum signature and fundraising threshold. The amount of money available varies by office and time frame. At most, candidates could see a base infusion of $160,000 and get small contributions matched five-to-one.

“I think it’s going to change the way campaigns work. It’s going to make sure that candidates are spending more time with residents and small-dollar donors,” Councilmember Charles Allen, the bill’s chief sponsor, told reporters Tuesday. “It also helps diversify the candidate pool, because now, candidates don’t have to know a whole bunch of millionaires to run for office.”

The program would be up and running in time for campaigns in 2020, Allen said. Eligible candidates would need to meet a minimum signature and fundraising threshold in order to participate.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has made known her opposition to the bill. A spokeswoman told WMAL in a statement Tuesday, “With so many pressing needs for residents, it is not prudent to divert tax dollars from hiring more police, investing in housing or fixing our roads to paying for negative attack ads and donor receptions.”

Allen disputed the Mayor’s notion, saying the District “can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

“It takes a few million dollars,” he said. “That’s an investment in your democracy. It’s an investment in your elections, and I think it’s well worth it.”

It is not clear if Bowser will veto the legislation or if she will let it become law without her signature, given its unanimous support in the council.

Following the bill’s passage, D.C. Shadow Senator Michael Brown stood up and excoriated the council, angry that his office wasn’t included in the bill.

“We work hard for you,” Brown shouted toward the dais. “It’s a shame.”

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson threatened to have Brown removed from the chamber before he walked out on his own.

“We work for free,” Brown told WMAL. “They’ve said that our office doesn’t count. It’s horrible. Statehood is supposed to be a priority for the District.”

Copyright 2018 WMAL.com. All Rights Reserved. (Photo: Wikimedia)


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