Several dozen District activists and local politicians met Wednesday night to begin plotting how to collect the 22,700 signatures needed to get a referendum on the November ballot banning corporate contributions to city political candidates.
At a happy hour and fundraiser on Barracks Row, the group said they plan to fan out across the city this spring to gather the signatures, putting a particular emphasis on staffing all polling locations during the April 3 Democratic and Republican primaries.
The coalition is headed by several progressive activists, but receiving organizational support from Council member Tommy Wells and his chief of staff, Charles Allen. Wells’ involvement could help him boost his citywide profile and organization in preparation for a possible citywide run in 2014.
“We are really at the beginning of a really important mission for this city,” Bryan Weaver, a leader of the effort, told the crowd. “I have no doubt, if we can get on the ballot, we win.”
Last week, the Board of Elections and Ethics approved the ballot initiative that “would prohibit corporations and other business entities from making direct contributions to principal campaign committees, exploratory committees, legal defense committees organized in support of public officials, transition committees, inaugural committees, or constituent-service programs.”
Activists who announced their support for the initiative on Wednesday included former council member Kathy Patterson, at-large council candidates Sekou Biddle, Peter Shapiro and David Grosso, and Ward 8 council candidate Jacque Patterson.
Wells told the group the initiative would help end a political culture in which a business leader has more influence than activists who lobby in support of child welfare or environmental issues.
“The people of Washington have to say, ‘we have to put a stop to this’,” said Wells, referring to corporate influence on the political process. “We decide our values, you don’t decide our values.”
With minimal opposition so far from the business community, most observers believe the city’s liberal electorate would overwhelmingly approve the initiative if it lands on the ballot. But collecting that many signatures – 5 percent of District registered votes – in just six months can be daunting.
To prepare, organizers say they will train volunteers on how to best to gather valid signatures. The group also plans to coordinate with other interest groups and campaigns.
Travis McArthur, an Occupy DC organizer, said his group has decided to help the effort in any way it can.
“It’s one of the things we are working on after the eviction,” said McArthur, who attended the happy hour. “We are moving onto a new phase that includes achieving concrete, achievable goals like the ballot initiative.”