For well over 20 years, I have been raising political money for elected officials as well as worthy social justice causes. Estimating conservatively, I have raised nearly a half a million dollars for D.C. mayors, D.C. Council members, members of Congress and nonprofits. My fundraising has given me good access to these officials, and I have enjoyed the process. Even today, amid the scandals swallowing up our city leaders, I believe that the money I raised was “good money” that made our city a better place.
But like many D.C. residents, I think the time has come to change the rules so that people don’t need to raise so much money to compete in our elections. Money may not corrupt all by itself, but there is an undeniably corrosive effect of putting money pressures on people who are already under lots of political, social and economic strain. Money and politics are a volatile mix.
I do not want to raise large sums of money for politicians. I have come to feel like an enabler — part of the problem, not part of the solution. I have promised one more political friend that I will raise money for her, and I will keep my promise. But then what?
First, I agree with Tom Lindenfeld’s 10-step reform ideas [“How to drive corruption out of D.C.,” op-ed, July 6]. My proposal to radically curtail political spending below is meant to build on his sensible ideas.
Second, raise the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot to 2,000 for ward races and 6,000 for at-large races, forcing serious candidates to tap into some serious volunteerism to get on the ballot. (Now, you need 500 and 2,000 signatures, respectively.) No payments to signature collectors allowed!
Third, increase the election cycle from four years to five, to give everyone more time. More time for victors to govern before they have to hurry up and raise money again. More time for voters to judge incumbents and their records. More time for challengers to find and organize volunteers.
Fourth, give each candidate who gets onto the ballot $25,000, which they can use as seed money to begin fundraising or to set up their campaigns. This is known as equal-opportunity public financing of elections. With this limited start-up funding, maybe candidates will find that they can run their races out of their living rooms the way former D.C. Council chairman Dave Clarke always did. Nobody needs an over-the-top campaign headquarters.
Fifth, limit contributions from all citizens, corporations and unions to $25. And ban all other loophole money-raising schemes, such as exploratory committees, soft money, independent expenditures and constituent service funds. An incumbent or challenger should be able to raise unlimited amounts, but not over $25 per donation. That way, if a candidate can get 10,000 citizens or other entities to give $25, he or she will have $250,000 — more than enough to run a simple yet effective campaign. The result: The average citizen will have as much election influence as any corporation, nonprofit, union or lobbyist.
Last, make sure enforcement against any candidate or campaign functionary who violates election and ethics laws is prompt and consistent, with severe sanctions. Both the Office of Campaign Finance and the Board of Elections and Ethics must be given stronger investigative powers and more staff.
I enjoy raising money. I will continue to raise money for social justice causes and for friends who need support because of such things as foreclosures and medical expenses. As much as I respect and support the politics and officials of this great city, I plan to no longer give more than $25 to any politician. After all, there is nothing stopping me from limiting myself to $25 even if the ideas I lay out here never see the light of legislative day.
Anyone with me? Let’s start an “only $25” movement. We can set a good example for how our politicians can run their own campaigns. I’ll print the first leaflets and distribute them at local supermarkets.