A ballot initiative that would ban corporate contributions to District campaigns can go forward, city elections officials ruled Monday.
Members of the Board of Elections and Ethics approved what will now be called the “Prohibition on Corporate Campaign Contributions Initiative of 2012” after hearing testimony from supporters of the effort, including lead organizers Sylvia Brown and Bryan Weaver. The board made some minor changes to the title and wording of the law to comport with legal restrictions on the subject matter of ballot initiatives.
The revised text of the initiative will be published in Friday’s edition of the D.C. Register for a 10-day period of public comment, said board spokeswoman Alysoun McLaughlin. Should there be no substantive objections to the initiative’s fitness for the ballot, organizers could have petitions in hand as soon as March 13, McLaughlin said.
That would kick off a six-month effort to collect more than 22,000 valid signatures from registered District voters — 5 percent of the city total — in order to get the measure on the November ballot.
Weaver, a former advisory neighborhood commission and D.C. Council candidate, said the board’s approval followed weeks of consultation with city lawyers to determine “language everyone could agree on.” Earlier this month, Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan ruled that the initiative was fit to appear on the ballot.
The board’s okay appears to have come in time to allow for the circulation of petitions on April 3, citywide primary day when initiative backers, organized as the D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust, will have their easiest access to thousands of registered voters.
”That will be a huge day for us,” Weaver said. “April’s going to be crucial.”
While it appears that the organizers will have until early September to collect signatures, Weaver said their goal is to have sufficient signatures collected by July given the well-recognized difficulty of engaging the populace in the late summer.
The petitions will carry this summary: “This initiative, if passed, 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.”
Besides Brown and Weaver, D.C. Council candidate Baruti Jahi, activists Dorothy Brizill and Bob Summersgill, and a representative of an Occupy D.C. committee were among those to testify in support of the initiative.
One person signed up to testify in opposition: Robert Vinson Brannum, who serves as president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations but signed up to speak on his own behalf. Brannum was not able to deliver his testimony in person but explained his objections in an interview this afternoon.
”I just feel that the issue should be more about openness and getting full disclosure, rather than to merely prohibit [corporations] from giving,” he said. “There’s a lot of good corporation giving that should not be prohibited just for this purpose. I think the greater emphasis should be on disclosure.”