DC’s Fair Elections Program: Leading the Way to Empower DC Residents in Local Elections

People across the political spectrum know that the Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which enabled the continued influence of corporations in political campaigns, is a serious threat to our democracy. Opposition to outsized corporate influence in political campaigns is near universal and nonpartisan. While Congress seems unwilling to act, cities and districts across the country are finding ways to raise the voices of people and reduce the power and influence of corporations and moneyed interests in political campaigns.

In 2018, DC was one of those jurisdictions to push back by passing the Fair Elections program. DC’s Fair Elections program is voluntary and allows candidates to receive limited public matching funds if they pledge to only accept small donations and reject all corporate and political action committee money. Donations from DC residents are matched at a rate of 5:1. The program empowers candidates to focus on meeting with, listening to, and being responsive to DC residents.

Erin, Eric, and the Monsters petitioning for DC Fair Elections at the Columbia Heights Farmers’ Market in May 2017. Public support for public financing of local elections was overwhelming.

In 2018, DC was one of those jurisdictions to push back by passing the Fair Elections program. DC’s Fair Elections program is voluntary and allows candidates to receive limited public matching funds if they pledge to only accept small donations and reject all corporate and political action committee money. Donations from DC residents are matched at a rate of 5:1. The program empowers candidates to focus on meeting with, listening to, and being responsive to DC residents.

Erin and supporters of legislation proposing DC’s Fair Elections program in February 2018. The legislative success followed three years of community engagement and advocacy.

Public financing in DC works! The DC Auditor has found that the program has positively impacted increasing candidate participation; increasing resident engagement and donor diversity; amplifying small donors; stimulating civic participation; and reducing the importance of fundraising in DC elections. Not only does the program reduce corporate influence, it also empowers people of color and women to run competitive races.

DC’s Fair Elections program has proven so popular that all of the three main Mayoral candidates, as well as the vast majority of current and recent Councilmember candidates have chosen to participate in the program this election cycle. This is a victory for democracy, for DC residents, and for working class families. It sends a loud and clear message that there is a desire and commitment to fight back against moneyed interests and undo Citizens United, even if it’s one local jurisdiction at a time.

One sole incumbent and candidate has nevertheless chosen not to participate in the Fair Elections program and instead cozy up to corporate donors — my opponent, the current Council Chair. His decision has been richly rewarded — with tens of thousands of dollars of donations directly from businesses, lobbyists, and law firms. They understand his message: big checks continue to mean an outsized seat at the table, access to his office, and favorable legislation. When the Council Chair is in your pocket you don’t have to worry about new requirements for paid family and medical leave, a carbon rebate focused on putting money into the hands of low-income residents, or the vast majority of DC voters who supported raising the tipped minimum wage. He’ll make sure you get the outcome you paid for.

In the first three months of my campaign I’ve called, emailed, texted, and knocked on the doors of thousands of DC residents — the people I will represent, be engaged with, and be accountable to. I’m proud to amplify the voices of parents, workers, and all DC residents.

Erin is the first and only candidate for DC Council Chair to participate in and qualify for DC’s Fair Elections program.

Participating in DC’s Fair Elections program means I have significantly more DC individual contributors and more geographically diverse donors across DC than my opponent. It also means I’ve accepted $0 from corporations and political action committees, while my opponent has received a quarter of his donations — tens of thousands of dollars — from corporations and political action committees.

My commitment to you and every DC resident is that I will continue to put the needs and voices of residents over the interests of corporations, political action committees, and lobbyists. Here’s to people-powered campaigns!

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