Photo by Frankie Roberto on Flickr.

DC residents are tired of waking up to read about corporate donors who receive sweetheart deals from our elected officials.  We endorse a ballot initiative to ban corporate contributions to political campaigns.

The proposed measure, known as Initiative 70, would bring DC in line with federal law, as well as the laws of 21 states and countless other cities.

Despite the growing momentum behind this initiative, you’ll hear lots of excuses in the coming months from incumbent politicians as to why this ban wouldn’t work in DC. You can respond to these excuses with your signature.

Volunteers will be out at the precincts for primary election day on April 3, collecting signatures to get this initiative on the November ballot. Signing the petition is as important as any vote you make that day; volunteering to gather signatures would do even more.

Most sitting councilmembers aren’t supporting this ballot initiative. Their desperate excuse is that a ban on direct corporate funding of campaigns could push corporate dollars into the shady world of political action committees. 

But the council has the authority to regulate those PACs, so that argument rings hollow.

Those councilmembers would actually have you believe that the current system of direct corporate contributions to campaigns is transparent by comparison.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Corporate contributors make a mockery of campaign finance rules by cloning themselves to circumvent contribution limits. Corporate donors bundle checks from each of their corporate subsidiaries, even if those subsidiaries do nothing but write checks to councilmembers.

By giving money through these veiled spinoffs, corporations can give many times more than you or I can give. Is that fair? Should your neighbor be able to contribute 12 times more than you because he owns a business with 11 subsidiaries and you do not?

Often, these corporate contributors are land developers who establish each development as a separate limited liability company (LLC), and bundle checks from each LLC to politicians. Using LLCs is particularly shady, as the identities of their owners is legally not public information.

We can strike at the heart of this culture of pay-to-play in DC government by passing this ballot measure.  Doing so would force councilmembers to be more responsive to ordinary citizens in order to finance their campaigns.

As long as our politicians bankroll their campaigns with bundled corporate checks, though, we can forget about regulating PACs or passing any other meaningful campaign finance reform.  Just last December, the council voted down several amendments to include campaign finance reform in ethics legislation, by a vote of 12-1.

Dissenting councilmembers claimed they voted no because they wanted to wait to address campaign finance reform separately.  We aren’t holding our breath.  Only 2 members co-introduced a comprehensive reform bill, but just last week the rest of the council found time to support a much narrower campaign finance reform fix, limiting money order contributions to $25.

That’s a good step, but other issues are equally pressing. Or is the council only willing to deal with the problem of the day on the front page of the newspapers, and none other?

Our patience has run out.  As long as corporate owners can walk to a sitting councilmember and, while discussing a city contract, hand them 12 checks from each LLC they own, residents cannot trust our elected officials.

No, Banning corporate contributions to campaigns is not sufficient to reform campaign finance. Yes, it will still be possible for PACs to influence DC Council legislation. 

But Initiative 70 will make it a lot harder for corporations to buy votes, and will send a clear message to the Council that continued campaign finance reform, including PAC regulation, can be delayed no longer.

Sign a petition when you vote on April 3rd, or even better, volunteer for DC Public Trust and help collect signatures.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active contributors and editors voted on endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong majority or greater in favor of endorsing the initiative.