Constituent Service Fund Reform Amendment Act of 2019
Introduced: April 2, 2019
Co-introducers: Councilmembers Charles Allen, Robert White, Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau
Summary: To amend the Campaign Finance Act of 2011 to repeal the existing constituent-service program and related language; and to amend Chapter 3 of Title 47 of the District of Columbia Official Code to establish a government-funded constituent services program.
Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:
Today, along with Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Charles Allen, Elissa Silverman, and Robert White, I am introducing the Constituent Service Fund Reform Amendment Act of 2019.
Misused, Inequitable and Ethically Fraught. That’s the title of a report on the use of Constituent Service Funds by councilmembers, released last week by Public Citizen.
The report found that, in the last seven years, only a quarter of expenditures from constituent service funds have been used to meet the immediate needs of our residents.
Sports tickets, branded t-shirts, membership dues, calendars, greeting cards¬–the list goes on–are just some of the items that have been purchased with funds intended to help our residents in need pay bills, buy groceries, or make funeral arrangements.
Worse than what the money is used for (or rather NOT used for) is where the money comes from.
Private donations raise the specter of pay-to-play politics, with maxed out campaign donors and those seeking government business able to further contribute financially to an elected official.
Last year, as part of the debate and passage of the Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2017, which became effective law two weeks ago, provisions to reform constituent service funds were removed at the markup.
During that debate councilmembers touted the important role these funds play in helping their constituents on a day to day basis and raised concerns about meeting constituents’ needs if we were to eliminate these funds or place restrictions on donations to them.
The bill I am introducing today would allow us to both meet those IMMEDIATE needs of constituents while also removing the undue influence of monied interests in this important work.
The legislation establishes a central, publicly-funded constituent service fund for the Mayor, Attorney General, and the members of the Council, providing each the ability to direct up to $40,000 annually for immediate constituent needs.
Elected officials will not be able to solicit donations from private donors or move unused campaign, transition, and other funds to constituent service funds, removing even the appearance of corruption from the equation.
New requirements will ensure expenditures directly benefit constituents and prohibits using funds on questionable perks like sports tickets and branded advertising.
And finally, the bill empowers the Chief Financial Officer to administer the program and approve expenditures, creating a new system of accountability and removing the burden from the Office of Campaign Finance.
This legislation builds on the work undertaken in recent years to put our ethical house in order, continuing us down the road that both the Fair Elections and Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Acts have set us on to win back the public’s trust in our work.