Campaign Reform Alliance Fights Back

Barrington M. Salmon | 8/30/2012, 3:17 p.m.

"They don't make it easy or fair," said Weaver.

Brown, 37, said news of the initiative's demise is premature.

"People in the media and on social media have been pontificating that we're done. [However], I'm still very confident that we'll get on the ballot."

Both Brown and Weaver said the initiative is a grassroots-driven effort to remove direct corporation contributions not just from candidates and elected officials, but also to constituent services funds, inaugural and transition funds and legal defense funds.

"This would put the District in line with the Congressional and federal levels," said Weaver. "There would be no direct contributions from a company. A CEO or executive could write a check but not a corporate citizen like Target or Giant Food."

Creation of the committee - which is comprised of residents from all eight wards - was prompted by a troubling increase in contributions from members of the real estate sector and developers with multiple subsidiaries and entities, the pair said.

"They were giving 10 times, 20 times what's legally allowed," said Weaver. "We wanted to stop this but there wasn't a lot of support from [elected officials]. They take bundles [of cash] because it's easy."

Another concern, Weaver said, is that council members are accepting more money from corporations than ordinary residents. If nothing else, he and other supporters of Initiative 70 said, the skewing of contributions in this gives the appearance of "pay for play" which benefits corporations and big business and few others.

Brown credited longtime community activist Phil Pannell and Ward 8 volunteers for their work.

"They got on the stump and supporters jumped on the bandwagon," she said with a laugh. "Also, some advisory neighborhood commissioners have passed resolutions in support of the initiative."

Brown said the committee has gotten "quiet support" from the D.C. Council, with Council Member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) being its most vocal supporter.

"As with any council, constituents drive them," she said. "It's like the tail wagging the dog or leading from behind. We're giving these council members the courage to help them move past the status quo."

The issue of corporate contributions, bundling and related issues has been at the forefront of public attention since it became public that the U.S. Attorney's Office and federal investigators had opened an investigation trying to ascertain if Jeff Thompson, a major donor to D.C. political campaigns, violated local and federal campaign laws.

In addition, embattled Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has been fighting off calls for his resignation following guilty pleas by his aides and a close friend for actions taken during his run for mayor. Meanwhile, several members of the council have been entangled in theft, improprieties and ethical lapses that has stained the body and raised the ire and disgust of residents.

"The scandals are kindling for this effort," said Brown. "This is bigger than any sort of cloud hanging over the legislature. This is about good government and the accountability of government and government officials. People are now talking about full-scale change to the campaign finance law and public financing."

"As we said from the beginning, this is one step to help D.C. politics grow and mature."