Campaign Finance Reform

I am one of the many DC residents who want full transparency and disclosure in campaign finance reporting and vigorous enforcement of individual contribution limits. That is why I supported the grassroots, resident-led effort to ban direct corporate contributions known as Initiative 70, and worked very hard trying to give DC voters an opportunity to vote on Initiative 70 in the last election.

The most sweeping of the bills the Council has considered to date, Bill 19-960, the “Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2012,” has many elements in it that I agree with—more muscular reporting requirements, beefed up penalties for violating campaign finance laws, and restrictions on contributions from contractors to stop the incestuous pay-to-play culture that has caused such a cynicism among my neighbors that we can actually elect honest local politicians who represent the public interest and not just their own—but the bill falls short on one key reason why my neighbors have lost confidence in DC politics: that the influence of the individual voter is far outweighed in public policy decision-making by interests that give lots of campaign cash and do that by the evading our laws through the use of limited liability companies.

Let me put it this way: DC residents like myself want campaign finance reform that is for real and not just a bunch of words in legislation that won’t—and can’t—be enforced. By failing to tackle the LLC issue head on—and that issue being that through the use of LLCs, ownership and relationships between companies can be concealed behind a corporate veil—many of the well-intended efforts in the mayor’s bill are rendered impotent.

The bill ignores the more common definition of "bundling" in DC politics as used by members of the local press: that some business interests willfully evade our individual contribution limits by creating veiled corporate entities known as limited liability companies, ("LLCs") which allows them to give much more than a regular resident. These are SuperCompanies, in other words, and under the mayor’s bill, they would continue to evade our laws because legally they do not have to disclose their ownership.

These are the reasons why a ban on direct corporate contributions is a fairer, more exacting way to address transparency and the willful evasion of contribution limits.

(adapted from Council testimony, November 2, 2012)