Democracy is on a Roll: DC Becomes Latest City to Push for Fair Elections Reform

<p>Flickr – Mr.TinDC</p> (D.C. Flag)

Flickr – Mr.TinDC

(D.C. Flag)

D.C. Councilmember David Grosso, joined by Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau and Charles Allen, introduced a bill today that would create a citizen-funding (or public financing) system for the District of Columbia.

The bill is great news for D.C. residents, and comes on the heels of huge fair elections victories in Maine and Seattle.

Councilmember Grosso’s bill would provide a five-to-one match of small donations (under $100) to candidates who can demonstrate broad public support and who agree to lower contributions limits. The bill would also establish an independent Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to oversee the public financing system and campaign finance laws.

The system is similar to New York City’s Matching Funds Program, which provides a six-to-one match for small donations, and is also administered by an independent agency.

And if Councilmember Grosso’s proposed system works anything like New York City’s, D.C. residents really have reason to cheer. The New York City Matching Funds Program has been a boon to democracy.

A 2012 study by the Brennan Center for Justice found 90 percent of census blocks in New York City included at least one small donor to a candidate for City Council, compared to the merely 30 percent of census blocks which had a small donor to a candidate for the New York State Assembly (who cannot receive matching funds for small donations).

The study similarly found that the communities which donated to City Council races were more likely to have lower incomes and greater racial diversity than those that gave to State Assembly candidates, and that the pool of small donors grew by 40 percent.

Empowering small donors is a crucial component to ensuring everyone has a voice in their government. Citizen funding systems that incentivize candidates to connect with constituents, broaden their donor base and discourage kowtowing to special interests enjoy tremendous public support wherever they’re implemented.

Democracy is on a roll right now, and we hope D.C. will be the next big win.