Greater Greater Washington

Candidates take a stand on ethics proposals

We've heard a lot of ideas for rules that will clean up DC's political culture, from the backers of Initiative 70, from multiple DC councilmembers, and from citizen groups like DC for Democracy. What do our at-large candidates think?


Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.

This week, Let's Choose DC, a partnership of Greater Greater Washington, DCist, and PoPville, asked the candidates running in the April 23 special election to take a stand on 6 proposals from last year:

  • Ban or limit outside employment
  • Eliminate or constrain constituent service funds
  • Ban corporate contributions to campaigns
  • Ban "bundling" from multiple entities controlled by the same person
  • Ban contributions by contractors and/or lobbyists who do business with DC
  • Forbid free or discounted legal services, travel gifts, sports tickets for councilmembers

We asked the candidates to explain whether they were for or against each proposal, along with any explanation they wished to give and any other proposals besides these 6 which they would push for if elected. Perry Redd, Elissa Silverman, Matthew Frumin, Michael Brown, Paul Zukerberg, John Settles, and Patrick Mara submitted responses. Anita Bonds' campaign manager expressed interest in responding but did not yet submit something.

You can see and rate responses (starting with a randomly-selected candidate) now. Some candidates specifically addressed each of the proposals in their responses, while a few did not appear to specifically take a stand on each as the question asked. When you rate the responses, please factor that in to your rating on whether, or how fully, the candidate answered the question.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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Most answered the questions well enough, save Michael Brown (not sure why he bothers to respond).

The most noticeable difference is wrt to constituent funds and maybe outside employment.

- They should definitely look to eliminate outside employment but Settles does have a point about attracting good candidates.
- I like Silverman's idea about how to use the funds, I'm just not so sure how her plan differs from what we already have. I'm not a budget person and don't know how identifying it as a "budget line item" makes it a better alternative.
- Considering Silverman's background, I assume the ban would apply to ANY lobbyist rather than just "registered"?
- I do have a problem w/discounted legal services and travel. Receiving sports tickets/box seats - that should continue since I don't have a problem w/city officials having such a presence at local events.

BTW, did I mention I don't know why Brown bothered to respond?

by HogWash on Feb 19, 2013 1:00 pm • linkreport

Nothing about the candidates spouses?

by charlie on Feb 19, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

At least Brown is trying. Love that Bonds has completely written off the GGW/internet vote completely.

by Kyle-W on Feb 19, 2013 1:17 pm • linkreport

@HogWash, the distinction is that if constituent service funds were to become a line item in the city budget, they would be solely funded by the city; right now they're paid for by private contributions. Although using private funds means that the city isn't on the hook to pay for any of this, it creates the concern that donating to these funds is a way to buy access to the Councilmembers.

The answers, possibly excepting Michael Brown's tweet, were all pretty close together, which I think demonstrates a belief among the candidates that the voters have arrived at their consensus. The big differences were with regards to constituent service funds, plus Mara's attempt to distinguish between contributions made by lobbyists in a professional role versus those made in a private capacity and Zukerberg's strong opposition to public financing of campaigns.

by cminus on Feb 19, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

@Cminus, oh good grief! Why in the world wouldn't she just say that????? I mean we get it, she's a budget person. But if imagine that most people would understand (easier) what you wrote than how she chose to convey this point.

Understanding that, if the only alternative was to use city dollars, I would vote to eliminate the funds altogether since I'm not super-thrilled about using private funds..but like it better than using the city's.

I'm not totally sold on the idea of public financing either. I appreciate Mara's truthfulness wrt "banning corporate money."

by HogWash on Feb 19, 2013 2:32 pm • linkreport

I too am confused about how public financing would work. I suppose the devil is in the details about what constitutes a viable candidate and how much money is really involved. Quite frankly, I am not interested in my tax dollars going to political operatives every time there is a DC election. On the other hand, I understand the need and desire to remove the pay to play aspects of campaigns.

I think Mara and Frumin were both realistic about the first amendment issues around this topic, but as is the case on the national level, it is touchy.

by Andrew on Feb 19, 2013 3:04 pm • linkreport

RE: Public Financing
Maine has public financing, called "Clean Elections," you can read about it here:
http://www.maine.gov/ethics/mcea/index.htm

Basically you have to collect a certain number of "qualifying contributions," based on the office you are running for. These are $5 (check/money order) donations and signatures of the people who donated. Once those have been verified you are in and can receive public funding for your campaign.

You can choose to privately finance your campaign but there are a TON of reporting requirements.

But the process for getting on the ballot is similar to DC's signature requirement except with a small monetary component added, and you need fewer contributors.

by MLD on Feb 19, 2013 3:34 pm • linkreport

Most of the public financing proposals for DC seem to be similar to the New York City model. Once you reach the threshold (raising a certain amount of money from a certain number of donors), you're eligible for matching funds in exchange for agreeing to certain limits. So you might, say, get $600 for a $100 donation in exchange for taking no donations over $250.

So it wouldn't be just handing out money to candidates (they have to qualify, and then the funds are only used to match donations), but it would put much more force behind multiple small donations rather than a few large ones.

by Chatham on Feb 20, 2013 7:12 am • linkreport

@Chatham

Thanks for the explanation. I think one thing that might help, is if there is this kind of qualifying, that the monies be raised from DC residents. There shouldn't be matching funds from friends/family etc out of DC. On the other hand, I don't think those monies should be banned, just not matched.

by Andrew on Feb 20, 2013 7:18 am • linkreport

LCDC admins: In what format do the candidates respond to these questions? Is it through email, tweet, live chat or what? I stumbled over a lot cringe-worthy typos and errors that, honestly, affect my opinion of some of the candidates. I'd like to know if the format makes it hard to write well or if some candidates just aren't putting in the effort to proofread their responses--and might exercise similarly poor attention to the details of running a government.

by Ronald on Feb 20, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

Ronald: They submit them via email. I then copy and paste them into mysql because I didn't take the time to create a web-based upload page.

The only thing I have to do is take out curly quotes, because when you paste them into an ssh session they just turn into periods. So if you see any periods where quotes look like they should be, let me know because that's my error.

On this last set I was using SSH on the iPad (traveling) and it would oddly transpose words if it saw a curly quote - I think it interpreted one as some kind of movement command - so if you see words out of order around where it looks like quotes should be, that's also a screwup and please let me know.

Anything else, like misspelled words, ungrammatical sentences, etc. is the candidate.

by David Alpert on Feb 20, 2013 2:34 pm • linkreport

@Kyle - This question was too much of a minefield for Bonds. She dodged the outside employment issue on Kojo right before she appointed herself to the council. Nevermind that she ran the State Democratic Party while working for a construction contractor that does business with the government -- she's on the council and is still working for them.

Bonds is basically running on the "don't look behind the curtain" platform against the Redd/Silverman "why isn't that illegal yet?" party.

I would also pay a few bucks to watch Third Person Paul Zuckerberg debate Paul Zuckerberg.

by Ronald on Feb 20, 2013 2:44 pm • linkreport

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