Investing in DC’s Democracy: The Fair Elections Act of 2017

On Tuesday, January 9, the D.C. Council voted unanimously in support of the Fair Elections Act of 2017. (Washington Post; WAMU). This victory for making government more responsive to the public interest, lessening corporate involvement in elections, encouraging greater citizen involvement in elections, and helping to restore public trust in government is the result of years of advocacy by DC Appleseed and others.

 Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns.

Despite the title, work on the Fair Elections Act began long before 2017. DC Appleseed worked with worked with At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, who introduced the bill, and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, the former Judiciary Committee chair, on this issue. Our pro bono partner, Arent Fox LLP, provided the Council important research and analysis needed to develop the case for and legislation implementing public financing of elections. We also testified in favor of the legislation before the Judiciary Committee, now chaired by Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen.

The resulting bill gained the support of every member of the Council. A majority – nine Council members – supported the legislation so strongly that they became co-introducers or co-sponsors. We agree with Councilmember Allen that the bill is an investment in democracy.

The next steps for the Fair Elections Act of 2017 are a second Council vote and review by Mayor Bowser. While the Council has voiced its full support, Mayor Bowser has said she doesn’t want to spend an average of $5 million per year on campaigns instead of government services. DC Appleseed agrees with Councilmember Allen’s assertion that D.C. can and must invest in democracy. Councilmember Grosso noted that Council can fund the Act if Mayor Bowser does not – and we encourage full funding in the upcoming FY 19 budget

In addition to monitoring next steps for the Fair Elections Act, it’s important to look ahead. While public financing is an important step forward, we echo Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who emphasized that that the Fair Elections Act can’t solve everything on its own. The legislation can’t prevent corruption or revive public trust in government in a vacuum. DC Appleseed looks forward to continuing to push for comprehensive solutions to those challenges as part of our D.C. Democracy work.

Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns. No changes were made.

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