by Dan Wedderburn, Chair, DC4D Government Reform Committee
Working together with several other local and national organizations, DC For Democracy is making remarkable progress to create a small donor public match financing program for mayoral, city council and attorney general candidates.
What is Small Donor Public Financing?
It’s a proven way to help level the playing field by empowering candidates who truly represent the priorities of DC residents, not just the tiny percent that donate the majority of campaign funds in DC elections. Big donors such as corporations, lobbyists and developers do not donate out of kindness – they expect something in return, and usually get it. The result? Government by the people, i.e., democracy, is thwarted. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Public match financing means the city will set up a special public fund in order to match contributions from small donors. Purely for example purposes, DC could provide a 5 to 1 match for donors who contribute between $5 and $100. Thus $100 would be matched by $500 for a total individual contribution of $600. New York City uses a similar structure in its local elections, and the results have been nothing short of profound.
So How do we Get Public Financing in DC?
Here in the District, Council Chair Phil Mendelson recently announced support of public financing, and we know longtime DC4D member Elissa Silverman is with us. CMs David Grosso and Kenyan McDuffie championed a similar bill in 2013, and we expect they remain supportive of the plan. And we expect others to be as well once concrete legislation is on the table.
That’s a good start, but there’s still a long way to go. It’s up to us to build the political will to enact game-changing legislation. So several DC4D members are working with local partners (DC Working Families, Fair Budget Coalition, LIUNA) and national partners (U.S. PIRG, Public Citizen, Demos, Common Cause) to develop policy priorities and rally public support.
We’ve launched a sign-on letter to our elected officials as a first step. Getting a great many organizations throughout the city signed on will send a strong message that small donor public financing needs to be a priority.
It’s time for DC4D members to step up and help gain support from organizations, especially ones you may be part of, and get them to join the effort. Download a copy of the letter, take it to any groups you may be part of and ask them to sign on:
• your community or political organization
• your issue or constituency group
• your ANC
All hands on deck!