D.C.’s pol­i­tics should look like its peo­ple

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS -

We in­vest in hous­ing, hu­man ser­vices and schools. We should in­vest in our democ­racy, too. The Fair Elec­tions Act of 2017 would es­tab­lish a vol­un­tary, lim­ited pub­lic match­ing-funds pro­gram for qual­i­fied can­di­dates run­ning for elected of­fice in the Dis­trict. As pro­posed, the pro­gram would match $5 for ev­ery $1 con­trib­uted to qual­i­fied can­di­dates who agreed to ac­cept only small-dol­lar do­na­tions and forgo do­na­tions from tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees. A res­i­dent who could af­ford only a $50 con­tri­bu­tion with a $250 match would make an ac­tual do­na­tion of $300, pro­vid­ing can­di­dates who par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram with suf­fi­cient fi­nan­cial sup­port for their cam­paigns.

Howard County re­cently cre­ated a sim­i­lar pro­gram, set to be­gin with the 2022 elec­tion cy­cle. Mont­gomery County’s pub­lic fi­nanc­ing pro­gram, which is up and run­ning for next year’s elec­tion, has at­tracted broad sup­port.

A match­ing-funds pro­gram would strengthen our democ­racy by em­pow­er­ing D.C. res­i­dents who now are un­der­rep­re­sented.

Cur­rently, the peo­ple who largely fund D.C. elec­tions do not re­flect the beau­ti­ful di­ver­sity of our city. Donors tend to be whiter, wealth­ier, older and more male than the Dis­trict’s pop­u­la­tion. A study by Demos of the 2014 elec­tion found that, while white peo­ple make up 37 per­cent of the Dis­trict’s pop­u­la­tion, 62 per­cent of may­oral donors and 67 per­cent of D.C. Coun­cil donors are white.

Can­di­dates who do not have a wealthy net­work of friends are at a dis­ad­van­tage when fac­ing can­di­dates with a broad and well-fi­nanced net­work. The dis­par­ity is even more pro­nounced when con­sid­er­ing city­wide races, in which donor lim­its in­crease. We can ad­dress this with the Fair Elec­tions Act so that the peo­ple who fund our elec­tions re­flect the peo­ple who live and vote in the Dis­trict.

A well-crafted pub­lic fi­nanc­ing sys­tem also would help de­moc­ra­tize elec­tions by break­ing down the bar­ri­ers to run­ning for of­fice, am­pli­fy­ing the voices of vot­ers and pro­vid­ing res­i­dents an op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in the elec­toral process on par with cor­po­rate in­ter­ests.

Mo­men­tum has been build­ing for a pub­lic fi­nance sys­tem in the Dis­trict, and I have been a proud sup­porter of it be­cause the Dis­trict is stronger when res­i­dents are em­pow­ered and able to par­tic­i­pate fully in our govern­ment. The Fair Elec­tions Act would re­store power to the elec­torate and help en­gage more peo­ple in the po­lit­i­cal process. This would be good for can­di­dates, in­cum­bents and chal­lengers, our govern­ment and, most im­por­tant, res­i­dents.

In 2013, the coun­cil en­acted sig­nif­i­cant cam­paign fi­nance re­form leg­is­la­tion that I spon­sored that re­sulted in en­hanced ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency in the fi­nanc­ing of D.C. elec­tions. That leg­is­la­tion closed loop­holes and en­hanced over­sight of lob­by­ist bundling.

A ro­bust demo­cratic process is some­thing I have been com­mit­ted to for a long time. It is why I first in­tro­duced pub­lic fi­nanc­ing leg­is­la­tion in 2013, held the first roundtable on the bill and am a proud co-in­tro­ducer of this year’s strength­ened pro­posal.

Be­cause we are elected of­fi­cials and D.C. vot­ers, it is crit­i­cal that D.C. Coun­cil mem­bers sup­port fair elec­tions and make sure we tackle the is­sues con­fronting our democ­racy with the same ur­gency and rigor as with sim­i­lar is­sues in our com­mu­ni­ties.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.