DC Council Passes Bill to Empower Small Donors in District Elections


Mayor Bowser should support this public financing program, which incentivizes District candidates to seek support from a wider group of young, diverse voters

WASHINGTON - Today, the Council of the District of Columbia voted decisively to approve the Fair Elections Act of 2017. The District will join nearly 30 other jurisdictions across the country with a public financing system. Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is part of the DC Fair Elections Coalition and testified in support of the bill at a committee hearing.

“The Council has taken an important step to reduce the dependence candidates have on big donors and developers. The Fair Elections Act will empower small donors by amplifying their voices in District elections,” said Catie Kelley, director, policy and state programs at CLC. “From nearby Montgomery County, Maryland to Seattle, jurisdictions across the country are moving toward citizen-funded elections. This is an important step but we urge the Council to continue its efforts to reform the District’s campaign finance system by passing pay-to-play reform.”

“By design, public financing programs encourage candidates to draw more voters into the political process,” said Adav Noti, senior director, trial litigation at CLC, who testified before the Council on June 29, 2017. "Mayor Bowser should support this program, which will incentivize District candidates to seek support from a diverse set of voters, instead of from developers and others who try to buy influence with campaign contributions. Funding this bill will benefit the District for decades to come."

The voluntary system allows qualified candidates an initial grant followed by a five-to-one match on small donations with a maximum amount of public funds depending on the office they are seeking. The Office of Campaign Finance is charged with administering and enforcing the new Fair Elections Program, and it is required to submit a report to the Mayor and Council after each election. New York City’s successful system has a similar review provision.

Read the testimony CLC submitted to the D.C. Council in support of the Fair Elections Act, which analyzes the bill’s details, provides recommendations, and uses studies of multiple jurisdictions to show how matching funds programs give candidates a financial incentive to reach out to a greater number of voters.