Step One To End “Pay-to-Play”
Today, DC Public Trust representatives will pick up petitions for Initiative 70 (“The Prohibition on Corporate Campaign Contributions Initiative of 2012”) at the DC Board of Elections & Ethics. Initiative 70 puts up a roadblock to one of the main ways big money influences the votes of our local elected officials. It makes it unlawful for a corporation, limited liability company, or partnership to contribute to principal campaign committees, inaugural committees, or constituent service funds (CSFs). DC Public Trust now embarks on its ambitious campaign to collect almost 23,000 signatures from DC voters to place the initiative on the ballot for November.
Initiative 70 does not aim to end pay-to-play politics; only comprehensive, multifaceted campaign finance reform can do that. Last week, Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced an ambitious bill that would exact severe penalties for DC contractors who attempt to buy our elected officials with contributions, as well as outlawing all corporate contributions to campaigns. However, it is unlikely this bill will get out of committee, let alone be enacted by this Council, which does not even acknowledge that the “pay-to-play” culture undermines our democracy. Hence the need for a citizens’ initiative.
At-large Councilmember Vincent Orange has cleverly played the part of ethics reformer, but his lack of support for Initiative 70 shows he is insincere. Orange has tweeted that Initiative 70 falls short because it does not ban Councilmembers from being employed by corporations. Absolutely, outside employment constitutes a huge conflict of interest. Progressive grassroots group, DC for Democracy included this important reform in its comprehensive ethics reform proposals last year. But Orange’s argument is clearly disingenuous, since an initiative must be simple, concise, and limited. Having received more than $100,000 from Jeffrey Thompson, one of the leading bundlers in DC politics, it is hardly surprising that Orange is not leading the charge on outlawing corporate contributions.
At-large Council candidate Peter Shapiro, who is challenging Orange in the April 3rd Democratic Primary, has unambiguously endorsed Initiative 70 as an important first step, and he goes even further. In February, before Councilmember Cheh introduced her recent bill, Shapiro expressed his support for outlawing campaign contributions by entities under contract or soliciting contracts from the DC government. At DC for Democracy’s candidate forum in February, Shapiro also voiced his support for public financing of elections.
On April 3rd, we can elect a real ethics reformer or re-elect a cleverly disguised master of the “pay-to-play” game.
Interested in volunteering for the Initiative 70 campaign? Sign up here.
Disclosure: the writer serves as DC for Democracy’s Membership Chair.