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Sterilization seems like an apt metaphor for the solution to campaign finance abuses. Like a bitch who has had too many litters and been allowed to breed unchecked, the District has created untold dependents suckling on the government’s teat. And when there’s not enough to go around, it’s the runt who suffers.
Scandal after scandal has demonstrated this.
As campaign finance regulations go, the District’s are respectable. But the city’s Office of Campaign Finance, which is supposed to enforce them, has allowed people and companies trying to buy influence with city officials to exceed limits without consequence. And even if the agency were doing its job well, the political culture is still such that mayors and D.C. councilmembers are elected by big development and big business (the mouth-foaming spawn in this case), whose interests they then feel obligated to protect.
For the sake of ordinary District residents whose voices have been drowned out by monied interests, we need to cut the poor girl open and end this vicious cycle. So it’s heartening that 10 D.C. councilmembers have signaled their willingness to support a bill that would create public financing of local elections. The legislation, introduced earlier this week and conceived by a coalition of groups known as D.C. Fair Elections, would allow public matching funds (at a five-to-one rate) for candidates who establish viability and who agree to accept low, voluntary contribution limits ($50 for ward candidates, $200 for mayor) and forego special-interest money.
To understand why this legislation is so necessary, consider that more than 60 percent of contributions come from corporations or from people who live outside the city. Just 5 percent of political donations come from District residents giving $100 or less.
In other jurisdictions that have enacted such legislation, like New York City, the numbers show that more residents are donating and getting involved in the election process. Likewise, candidates have every incentive to opt in to public financing—and are no longer beholden to the bizpigs.
As for them, we also need to cut their nuts off because real reform is double-edged.