Under DC bill, tax dollars would be used to fund political campaigns

WASHINGTON — If you live in the District, your taxes could soon be used to help fund political campaigns.

Under a bill advanced by the D.C. Council’s judiciary committee Wednesday, political candidates would be able to tap into a pool of public money controlled by the city’s Office of Campaign Finance.

The option would be available for those running for mayor, city council, attorney general and the State Board of Education.

“The program incentivizes candidates to focus their time on connecting and engaging with a wide range of constituents, instead of targeting a small number of corporate contributions,” said Councilmember Charles Allen.

To qualify, candidates would be required to raise a certain amount of money through small donations from individuals.

For example, mayoral candidates would need to raise $40,000 from 1,000 donors, while candidates running for a ward council seat would need $5,000 from 150 donors.

After qualifying, candidates would be eligible to receive a lump-sum payment in public funding which would total $160,000 for mayoral candidates and $40,000 for those running for a seat on the council.

Candidates could then match small donations with public funding at a rate of 5 to 1, meaning a candidate could receive $250 in tax dollars for an individual donation of $50.

Those who participate would need to turn down contributions from corporations and political action committees.

“It will amplify the voice of small-dollar donors, and it will rein in the outsize influence of wealthy and corporate contributions in District elections,” Allen said.

There would be a limit to how much a candidate could receive in matching public funds.

According to Allen, the cap would be “calculated based on past expenditures for each office.” For mayor, it would be “110 percent of the average expenditures of the winning candidates for that office in the prior four election cycles.”

The committee approved the legislation unanimously, sending it to the full council.

“The situation we face today is that we are out of balance,” said Councilmember David Grosso. “Big donors outweigh the ability of others to influence campaigns.”

More than 25 jurisdictions in the country have similar public financing programs.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, candidates have the option of matching donations with tax dollars for the first time in the 2018 election cycle.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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