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Posts about Campaign Finance


Which candidates did your neighbors donate to?

The Sunlight Foundation has put together a great interactive map of contributions for the April 23 DC Council at-large special election.

Map by the Sunlight Foundation. Contribution data from the April 15 release
by the DC Office of Campaign Finance.

Their article by Ryan Sibley also shows many other interesting statistics, such as who got money from outside the region, the balance of corporate and individual contributions (Anita Bonds and Michael Brown got only about half individual contributions, while it's nearly 100% for Silverman), and more.

Sibley also notes that while DC's Office of Campaign Finance releases computer-readable data files with contribution information, some data is not in those files, like which candidate goes with a campaign committee. That's in PDFs, but PDF data isn't usable in mash-ups without human work.

What do you notice?


Breakfast links: Get it moving

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

Rendering by thisisbossi.

Purple Line gets first sponsor: Maryland has a transportation funding bill, but to help get the Purple Line moving, MDOT has signed a deal with Six Flags Corporation to sponsor the Purple Line. The new roller coaster design will include a loop-the-loop at Columbia Country Club and feature significantly higher speeds, reducing travel time.

New tax plan for Virginia: Governor Bob McDonnell proposes eliminating the state sales tax. He would make up the revenue by a 50% tax on hybrid or electric cars, organic produce, reusable grocery bags, and bicycle inner tube replacements. Observers now consider him a shoo-in for the 2016 GOP Presidential primary.

Congestion solved: The Texas Transportation Institute found that lost jobs from sequestration improved congestion. "Therefore, the logical policy for transportation must be further job loss," said Tim Lomax. Plus, Stockton, "foreclosure capital of the world," has the nation's lowest congestion, making it a clear model to emulate.

Where's the birth certificate?: Donald Trump is offering a reward for anyone who can prove DC Councilmember McDuffie isn't a "native Washingtonian." Stronghold resident McDuffie owns the house he was raised in and says he was born here, but no incontrovertible proof was immediately available after a 5-minute Google search.

Metro becoming more self-service: As part of its efforts to create a more "self-service" system in the Momentum plan, Metro will replaces all escalators with stairs and convert trains and buses to a Flintstone's-style power system.

Examiner will keep going: The Washington Examiner has reversed course and will continue its current publishing format. "Once we saw how upset our editorial style made David Alpert, we figured we were doing our job and had to continue," said editor Stefan Schmitt. The paper will, however, still fire Kytja Weir and Liz Essley, as both sometimes had positive things to say about transit.

Cheh apologizes: After weeks of speculation and inquiries from the local press, Mary Cheh relented and issued a letter of apology for her completely legal campaign fundraising activities. "DC residents have come to expect so much more of their elected officials," said DC voter Amy Zoneger.


Brown bombs on ethics; Silverman edges Frumin

Only 2.5% of voters gave Michael Brown positive marks for his response on ethics this week on Let's Choose DC (a partnership of Greater Greater Washington, DCist, and PoPville). Elissa Silverman took the top spot in your judgment, with Matthew Frumin second.

We asked the candidates to give their positions on 6 ethics proposals:

  • Ban or limit outside employment
  • Eliminate or constrain constituent service funds
  • Ban corporate contributions to campaigns
  • Ban "bundling" from multiple entities controlled by 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
Silverman touted her work on Initiative 70 pushing to enshrine the third of these into law. She, Frumin, Patrick Mara, John Settles, and Michael Brown all also endorsed public financing of elections. Paul Zukerberg explicitly opposed it; while we don't know why voters chose as they did, perhaps most of you disagreed and that contributed to his 6th place finish.

Michael Brown, meanwhile, opposed banning outside employment and changes to constituent service funds. He also did not address the proposals involving monetary or in-kind campaign contributions. As a consequence, 47% of you said he did not answer the question while giving him the lowest finish of any candidate on any question thus far on Let's Choose DC.

This week, we're asking about school truancy. See the responses and vote now!


The scandal's serious, but the city's solid

DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced a number of new green alleys in the District on Wednesday, then briefly spoke to the issue foremost on many minds: the growing scandal around a "shadow campaign" that disregarded campaign finance laws to help him get elected.

Photo by Don Baxter/Media Images International on Flickr.

Many commentators chuckled at the vanishing chance any coverage would focus on the green alleys. Many Wash­ing­tonians feel deeply betrayed, whether or not they supported Gray. This is a step backward for the District's reputation, for efforts to promote honesty in government and for the hope of uniting a divided city, a platform Gray ran on and genuinely believed in.

However, let's not shortchange those green alleys. They will last far longer, and ultimately make more of an impact on the lives of residents whose homes adjoin them, than this scandal or any political questions over who is mayor and for how long.

Continue reading in my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.


Super PACs in DC? The evidence doesn't support the fears

DC has an opportunity to clean up its elections and restore public trust in District leaders with a ballot initiative, but some are arguing that a ban on corporate contributions to campaigns would just trigger super PACs. The evidence says otherwise. In states that have banned the same practice for decades, super PACs have not played any meaningful role.

Photo by on Flickr.

Ballot Initiative 70 would ban business organizations from contributing to candidates for public office in the District of Columbia, including the widespread practice where multiple LLCs with the same owners make separate contributions. DC voters will have the chance to weigh in this fall if campaigners gather enough signatures in the next few weeks.

After yesterday's Supreme Court ruling striking down a provision in Montana, several people asked whether Initiative 70 could fall as well. But the Montana rule applied to independent political expenditures, not direct contributions, and direct contributions are already illegal in 21 states and in federal campaigns. There's no reason to believe a DC law like Initiative 70 would face any constitutional issues.

Another line of attack holds that banning direct contributions will just push corporations to use super PACs to influence DC elections. Jack Evans, an official with strong fundraising from corporations, has leveled this criticism, and today professional political operative Chuck Thies espoused it as well.

Super PACs are all the rage these days on the federal electoral scene. Corporations use them to channel unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose political candidates. But super PACs have not played any substantial role in local or state elections where direct corporate contributions have been illegal for many years. Instead, with the exception of one outlier, they have played no role at all.

A larger and more conservative neighbor, Pennsylvania, has had a statewide ban on corporate contributions for decades, long before Citizens United. This ban covers every state elected official from the governor down to lowliest state representative, but you would be hard pressed to find a single super PAC contribution to expenditure on behalf of any state candidate.

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, another state that has banned corporate contributions since long before Citizens United, you'll find the same thing. Nothing. There is no evidence of a single super PAC contributing to supporting a non-federal candidate.

The list goes on. North Carolina, Michigan, Colorado, and Iowa to name a few. All prohibit corporate contributions, but none have had any super PAC involvement with state candidates.

Wisconsin is the only outlier. There, anti-labor Republican Governor Scott Walker faced an ultimately unsuccessful recall effort in a battle that made—and at times dominated—national headlines as a fight between pro- and anti-worker forces. This highly charged and highly symbolic fight attracted the attention of super PACs.

But to call Wisconsin an outlier is an understatement given the charged and symbolic nature of the recall effort there. It is unlikely in the extreme that such a situation would replicate itself here in DC. The super PAC phenomenon created by Citizens United that has been limited to high-profile federal elections, not state or local contests. Even many, if not most federal candidates never come into contact with super PACs.

Politicians and pundits who cite this issue are doing little more than fear-mongering. Many benefit personally from the current status quo, because they have a fundraising advantage today thanks to corporate contributions or work for candidates who pay their salaries with such money.

These folks are not willing to seek help for their addiction to corporate cash or to help restore public trust in the District. The voters should pay them no heed.

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