Today is a key day for the D.C. activists who want voters to decide whether the city should ban corporate contributions to political campaigns.
No, the question isn’t on today’s ballot. But an estimated 200 organizers are at polling places today gathering signatures to get the question — now styled “Initiative 70” — on November’s general election ballot. They need more than 22,000 valid John Hancocks to succeed.
Today’s election is important because it offers petition circulators the best chance they’ll have to identify a big, easy-to-identify audience of folks eligible to sign — that is, registered District voters.
Three circulators were seeking signatures this morning outside St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Hillcrest, one of the city’s largest precincts.
An hour into the voting, volunteer Veronica O. Davis had collected about a dozen signatures. One signer was Winslow Woodland, 47, a city employee.
“I don’t think corporations always have the public’s best interests or the community’s best interests at heart, rather than just the bottom line,” Woodland said. “We have a lot of social problems, and I don’t think corporate America is going to take on those problems.”
Bryan Weaver, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner and one of two lead initiative organizers, said his group, D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust, has collected 2,000 signatures and is hoping to collect at least 10,000 more by the time polls close at 8 p.m.
Weaver and activist Jerry Clark circulated petitions outside Goodwill Baptist Church in Adams Morgan this morning. By noon, they had collected several dozen signatures.
Eric Haxthausen, 44, signed Weaver’s petition, saying he wanted to “level the playing field a little bit.”
“It’s human persons who vote, not corporate persons,” said the environment policy specialist, who said he would favor a system of public financing.
Most of the voters Clark and Weaver approached in the course of a half-hour readily signed the petitions. One man did decline to sign (and to give this reporter his name), saying he thought the initiative backers “have a point” but that it would be unconstitutional given recent Supreme Court rulings. (The landmark Citizens United ruling invalidated bans on corporate expenditures to independent political committees but not long-standing bans on corporate giving directly to political campaigns.)
Weaver & Co. have some institutional assistance in their effort: Circulators at several Ward 7 polling locations wore clothing bearing the logo of the “Our D.C.” coalition, a group affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. One circulator at Plummer Elementary School — Maryland resident Yvonne Montero, 46 — said she was affiliated with SEIU.
Note that the initiative does not to seek to limit union contributions.
Weaver has said donations from labor groups are not addressed in the initiative because he has not seen an issue with the “bundling” of union donations in the way that companies have bundled donations from corporate affiliates to amplify their political clout.