Monday, February 6, 2012

Guest Post: Regulating Money in Politics - Creating Cleaner and Fairer Elections

Written by Guest Blogger: ANC 7C04 Sylvia Brown

On January 17 civic activists Bryan Weaver and Sylvia C. Brown filed paperwork with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) to establish the D.C. Committee to Restore the Public Trust. The committee will work to get a ballot initiative to ban corporate contributions to D.C.’s political funds on the November 6 general election ballot.

Political funds include candidate campaign committees, constituent service funds, legal defense funds, and transition and inaugural committees

The Council of the District of Columbia debated and passed an overhaul of city ethics laws in the wake of a guilty plea by former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. in late December 2010. Members of the Council and the Mayor continue to be under legal scrutiny. During the debate, however, amendments to regulate political contributions were knocked down.

Weaver, who is a former Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and Council candidate, said, “I was hopeful that the DC Council's ethics law would have addressed corporation contributions, but the Council punted. The ballot initiative aims to address the loopholes in District laws that give undue influence over elected officials.”

“Restoring the public trust in our civic process matters,” Brown said. “The Council's ethics initiatives did not go far enough. It's always been hard to engage residents in the civic and political processes but at no point in the District do I think it's harder than now.” Brown currently serves as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner 7C04 in Deanwood.

Twenty-three states and the federal government ban corporations from directly contributing to candidates. D.C. law has individual contribution limits, but corporations can flout the law by creating multiple entities known as limited liability companies, or LLCs. LLC’s do not have to disclose their true ownership and take advantage of the loophole by setting up multiple companies to "max out" the contribution amounts, even though they are owned by the same corporation.

Brown continued, “As Chairman of the Committee and a civic activist on the federal and local level I understand politics can be a money game. However, the District is behind the curve.  Our City leadership is lobbying other states to support DC’s statehood and voting rights in Congress. Our civic and political processes need to grow up, too.”

The BOEE is slated to hold a public meeting on February 13 to consider the initiative’s language and short title. With successful BOEE approval, the DC Committee to Restore the Public Trust will hit the ground running with petitions in time for the April 3 primary. Supporters of the corporate contributions ban will need to collect approximately 23,000 in 180 days.

To get more information about the D.C. Committee to Restore the Public Trust friend and follow @dcpublictrust.

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