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Help clean up DC politics this weekend and this month

DC residents can continue to shake our heads in embarrassment and wait for the US Attorney to expose the corrosive influence of money in local DC politics, reinforcing the image of a federal territory unable to govern itself. Or, we can send a message to DC leaders that if they are not willing to lead on these important matters of ethics and integrity, the people will.

Photo by afagen on Flickr.

Join me and other many other DC residents by helping to put Initiative 70 on the ballot this November. We are collecting signatures at the Petworth and Dupont farmers' markets and Glover Park Day this weekend, and are looking for folks during Capital Pride next weekend. Please sign up to help at one of these or find out about other times and locations near you.

Initiative 70 bans corporate cash from local campaigns, as well as other ways to buy influence and access such as inaugural committees, constituent service funds and legal defense funds. It would become law if District voters approve it in November.

But it can't make the ballot simply because seems like a good thing to do. We need the valid signatures and addresses of 5% of DC registered voters on petition sheets we give to the DC Board of Elections and Ethics by early July, including 5% percent of the voters in 5 of the 8 wards.

And we can't just put some on-line petition on Facebook or Twitter to do it. We need to do it the old-fashioned way by collecting signatures in person, with the circulator of the petition witnessing the signature of each voter that signs our sheets.

We need Initiative 70 for the good of our city, but Initiative 70 also needs you. We need DC residents who believe in fairness and an ethical government to commit a little time to helping us gather the necessary signatures. In every ward, DC Public Trust, the organization we formed to pass Initiative 70, has weekly events at supermarkets and farmers' markets.

This weekend, for example, we'll be at the Petworth farmers' market in Ward 4 tomorrow, Glover Park Day in Ward 3 on Saturday, and the Dupont farmers' Market in Ward 2 on Sunday. Just 70 minutes of your week for Initiative 70 will help us collect the signatures we need to make the ballot.

Please sign up to volunteer online. Want to do something in your neighborhood? I will put you in touch with your ward coordinator.

Will Initiative 70 clean up DC politics entirely? Sadly, it won't. But as a longtime observer of local politics, I believe it is important to put into law because it addresses two glaring problems: a lack of transparency in who's giving and the overt evasion of our individual contribution limits.

LLCs, limited liability companies that fill our city's campaign coffers, play a game of peek-a-boo with our campaign finance laws. They are able to hide behind legal paperwork so we can't see the money flowing from one parent donor, but when the checks are handed over at a fundraiser it's pretty clear who is giving.

This has become an easy way to evade our individual contribution limits, which means that District contractor Jeffrey Thompson—whose companies profit from tens of millions in District contracts—can return the favor during campaign season.

About a month ago, I was collecting signatures at an event attended by Mayor Gray. I asked the Mayor to add his name to the thousands of DC residents who wanted a fairer local campaign finance system. He did not, explaining he had his own legislation he was going to put forward May 15. That day has come and gone without any proposal.

But as I told the Mayor, I don't think his efforts and ours are mutually exclusive. They are complimentary. Let's put Initiative 70 on the ballot, let's debate Mayor Gray's proposal—but let's do something to address what is a clear problem.

If we don't take action, we'll just keep the US Attorney busy. And that's not good for DC.

Please sign up now to help DC Public Trust and clean up DC politics. And Mayor Gray, I'm happy to meet you anytime to collect your signature.

Elissa Silverman is an independent at-large member of the DC Council. From 2002 to 2004, Silverman wrote the "Loose Lips" column on local politics and government for the Washington City Paper. She later worked as a Metro reporter for the Washington Post, then for the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. She lives on Capitol Hill near H Street.  


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Can you have someone at the Adams Morgan farmers' market Saturday morning?

by busgirl1 on May 31, 2012 12:44 pm • linkreport

Is it constitutional? Citizens United seems to have raised the difficulty level of making initiatives like this stand up in court.

by Ben on May 31, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

Hi busgirl1, I will ask our Ward 1 coordinators to try to cover. We will be at the Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant, and U Street markets this weekend. If you can help us collect at Adams Morgan please send me an email and I will put you in touch with our great Ward 1 coordinators.

And Ben, it is constitutional. Citizens United addressed INDIRECT contributions, like PACs and 527s. Initiative 70 impacts DIRECT contributions. Right now, DC local law differs from federal law and about half the states that ban direct business and corporate contributions to candidates.

by Elissa Silverman on May 31, 2012 12:55 pm • linkreport

Are there any other dates to sign if this weekend doesn't work for people?

by Sign Me Up on May 31, 2012 12:55 pm • linkreport

signmeup and anyone else interested in volunteering: feel free to send me an email,, and i will put you to work, i promise! thanks so much and look forward to your email, signmeup!

by Elissa Silverman on May 31, 2012 12:58 pm • linkreport

I thought we already did a similar drive for this not too long ago. Or am I confusing this effort w/something else. Or maybe several people are starting their own various drives for the same?

Either way, it's a good thing although I do not buy into the notion that money has "corrosively" influenced DC politics nor that the recent incidents suggests that we can't govern ourselves. DC is like any other city w/humans living there. Harry Thomas and Jeffrey Thompson are the exceptions, certainly not the rule. We would all live better (and be less stressed) if we are honest about that.

by HogWash on May 31, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

Oh wow! How did I miss this. There's now a report button on GGW!

Likely dumb question but is the link button to be used for linking to another site or something...saving the need to do html tags?

by HogWash on May 31, 2012 1:06 pm • linkreport

@ Ben - lets see how the Montana ban on corp cash plays out. In other areas addressing campaign finance issues, specifically, bans on "pay-to-play ", restrictions have been upheld where the restriction was in response to local/state bouts of corruption.

by bmv818 on May 31, 2012 1:07 pm • linkreport

I guess I'm jaded, but until the likes of Marion Berry are out of office, I will expect corrupt politics to remain in DC, regardless of this effort.

by Tom A. on May 31, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

I just noticed report today or yesterday (it has been a long week), but I don't believe link is new. It's just a permalink or a link directly to the comment.

by selxic on May 31, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

Does this initiative also ban unions from contributing to compaigns?

by keithdcil on May 31, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

Why doesn't this ban direct contributions from unions?

You mention corporate money, then talk about LLCs, they're not the same... an LLC is simply a state-level business designation, it has nothing to do whether a business is incorporated or not.

by @SamuelMoore on May 31, 2012 2:25 pm • linkreport

Keith, I believe the initiative does NOT ban unions from contributing directly. See section 2 at the link on my name. I believe this is a weakness of the initiative. I'm a supporter of unions generally but it makes the initiative seem more partisan then it should, perhaps losing a critical segment of potential support. I still want to see it on the ballot though.

by david on May 31, 2012 2:44 pm • linkreport

@Selxic, oh ok. I likely just overlooked it.

@Keith,Sam,David, I could be wrong but I thought the last time we had this discussion here about a similar initiative, that the reason why unions aren't seen in the same light as these corporate bundlers. I believe it had something to do w/the percentages (small) unions give to local elections and if they do, it's usually one lump sum payment. There's also something about how the unions don't take advantage of the loopholes that corporations do.

Obviously, I could have this all screwed up but I think I remember this.

by HogWash on May 31, 2012 3:40 pm • linkreport

I volunteered to collect signatures, and they provided a fact sheet that addresses the question of unions. Essentially, the argument is that unions aren't the problem in DC politics today, it's sketchy corporations.

Overall, I think the idea behind Initiative 70 is to do something straightforward to reduce the problem of money in politics. It's not a comprehensive reform package -- it's hard to put that on a ballot. In my opinion, we strongly need to pass Initiative 70 (please sign if you haven't!), and then we need to keep going and fix some of the other problems.

by Gavin on May 31, 2012 3:42 pm • linkreport

@Hogwash, I seem to remember something similar, along the lines of unions don't usually do it so we won't include them. I don't know how well that works logically (will they begin to do this more if they have an advantage over businesses who won't be able to?), but it could also simply be a political decision to try to garner union support.

by David on May 31, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport

Hi hogwash,
This is the same effort that Bryan Weaver initiated a few months ago. It takes a while to collect 23,000 signatures.

And on the issue of unions: Unions have played by the rules and contributed to the individual contribution limit. They have not tried to give more directly. Of course, they do make indirect contributions, by canvassing and such. That is why unions are not included.

Thanks everyone for the great commentary. I'm still looking for some great emails to help us get this on the ballot! gmail has no limits, remember!!

by Elissa Silverman on May 31, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

Stop saying corporations when you just mean businesses...

by @SamuelMoore on May 31, 2012 4:55 pm • linkreport

@samuelmoore when we collect signatures together, you can hold me accountable for saying businesses. i look forward to working together! thanks.

by Elissa Silverman on May 31, 2012 4:57 pm • linkreport

@samuelmoore Nope. Single proprietors can still donate as the single proprietor. Only incorporated entities would be impacted.

Also, I had an LLC. It most certainly is a corporate entity at the Federal level, with it's own rules of governance and taxation. In many ways similar to a pass through variant of an S-Corp, hybrid with an LLP.

by John on May 31, 2012 9:47 pm • linkreport

Thank you, Elissa, for your efforts to advance Initiative 70 and for posting this call to action.

I did sign the petition simply because I want the initiative on the ballot. However, when I first read about it in the Northwest Current, I formed objections to some provisions of it, but I can't remember what they were.

Initiatives seem to be the most politically feasible way to institute reforms such as campaign finance restrictions, elected D.C. representatives to the WMATA board, merit pay for the Council, and a ban on all forms of corporate welfare.

by The Civic Center on May 31, 2012 11:59 pm • linkreport

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