Councilmember Silverman Introduces Bill to Increase Election Transparency and Accountability in the District

Today, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman introduced the Clean Elections Amendment Act of 2015 to strengthen District laws that ensure elections are financed fairly and transparently. The legislation, co-introduced by Councilmembers Charles Allen, Mary Cheh and Brianne Nadeau, intends to make compliance with campaign finance laws simpler, as well as increase public confidence in the integrity of District elections and associated fundraising.

“We have all run campaigns. We know that they are fast-moving. Making the financial contribution rules simple, transparent, and uncomplicated makes compliance easier,” said Silverman when introducing the bill.

Under the legislation, District law would clearly outline when election contributions to political action committees and other groups would be considered independent expenditures and when they would be considered coordinated with or controlled by candidates or public officials.

In addition, only individuals would be eligible to make direct contributions to candidates’ political campaigns, allowing campaign funding to be more transparent and accountable to residents and businesses. The federal Tillman Act has prohibited corporations from donating to federal campaigns since 1907, and roughly half of states in the U.S. have similar policies limiting corporate loopholes in election financing.

“Our current law does not effectively enforce basic separations between candidates and outside funding groups. Under the introduced legislation, entities seeking to influence candidates and elections won’t be able to hide behind a registered agent or PAC,” said Silverman.

Businesses were highlighted as a key beneficiary of the bill, which aims to relieve perceived pressure for businesses to contribute to political campaigns or affiliated committees in order to be at a competitive advantage for District contracts or permits.

“We need to put an end to the perception—and sometimes unfortunate reality—of pay-to-play politics in the District of Columbia. Contributions will be contributions, not the expected price to do business in our city,” said Silverman.

The bill’s introduction comes as a compliment to the Citizens Fair Election Program Amendment Act of 2015 introduced by Councilmember David Grosso, which establishes a voluntary public financing system. The legislation was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.