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Grosso revives efforts to reform constituent service funds

For Immediate Release: 
April 2, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Grosso revives efforts to reform constituent service funds

Washington, D.C. – Often misused constituent service funds could see radical change aimed at improving the provision of assistance to constituents and reducing the influence of private donors under new legislation introduced by Councilmember David Grosso today.

Constituent service funds allow elected officials in the District of Columbia to raise money from private donors and provide emergency assistance to residents when a financial need arises.

However, a recent report from the non-profit Public Citizen entitled Misused, Inequitable and Ethically Fraught 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 D.C. residents.

Rather than using funds to help residents pay bills, buy groceries, or make funeral arrangements, some elected officials have purchased items like sports tickets and branded t-shirts or calendars.

“Worse than what these funds are misused for is where the money comes from. Private donations­–from those seeking business with D.C. government or campaign funders who have reached their contribution limits–raise the specter of pay-to-play politics,” said Grosso, who does not maintain a constituent service fund because of the ethical challenges they present.

The Constituent Service Fund Reform Amendment Act of 2019 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.

The legislation also adds new limits on constituent service funds expenditures, specifically prohibiting questionable perks like sports tickets and branded advertising, and empowers the Chief Financial Officer to administer the program and approve expenditures.

“The bill I introduced today would allow us to both meet the immediate needs of constituents while also removing the undue influence of monied interests in this important work,” Grosso said.

It further prohibits private donations or transfers from unused funds campaign, transition, inaugural and legal defense accounts to constituent service funds.

“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,” Grosso said.

Councilmembers Charles Allen, Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau, and Robert White joined Grosso as co-introducers of the bill.

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Constituent Service Fund Reform Amendment Act of 2019

Constituent Service Fund Reform Amendment Act of 2019

Introduced: April 2, 2019

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Charles Allen, Robert White, Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau

BILL TEXT | PRESS RELEASE

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.

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First round results of graduation investigation highlight need for continued scrutiny

For Immediate Release:
January 16, 2018
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

 

First round results of graduation investigation highlight need for continued scrutiny

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), chairperson of the Committee on Education, regarding the first report of the independent investigation of graduation and attendance at public high schools in the District of Columbia:

“Today, the Committee on Education received the results of phase one of the investigation into attendance and graduation at Ballou High School and internal procedure of District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), as conducted by independent contractor Alvarez & Marsal through the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE).  Additionally, we have received OSSE’s own report on citywide attendance of DCPS high schools and the oversight and review of the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) methodology.

“The results are extremely troubling. I am deeply concerned with the findings of inappropriate use of credit recovery courses, intentionally misleading attendance coding, and the pressure exerted by administration to pass students with failing grades. It was the hope of the community that these allegations were isolated or inflated, but the first wave of reports tells a much more harrowing tale. We still await the internal investigation being conducted by DCPS and on the remaining portions of the independent investigation to understand the full scope of the issues. I have spoken with State Superintendent Hanseul Kang and Chancellor Antwan Wilson about their initial reactions to the reports and expressed my grave concerns.

“On February 8, 2018 I will reconvene the public roundtable that began on December 15, 2017 to publicly review the findings of the Chancellor’s internal report on DCPS high schools and OSSE’s independent investigation. I will be looking to government leadership to present their findings as well as offer immediate and long-term solutions that address the systemic issues we are facing in our neighborhood high schools.

“I continue to encourage the public to build on the testimony we received over the course of the last month by submitting testimony to the Committee on Education. Testimony will be compiled as part of a formal Committee Report and anonymity or redaction will be granted upon request.

“I encourage the public to review the initial reports and provide comments here  and sign up to testify for Committee on Education performance oversight hearings for DCPS, OSSE, PCSB, and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education this February and March. 

“It is heartbreaking that we have failed these students. In all likelihood, their senior year was not the first time they struggled with school related subject matter or with attendance. Therefore, as a city, we must all come together to find immediate solutions that move us forward and rapidly away from these unethical practices.” 
 

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Grosso celebrates unanimous first vote for Fair Elections Act

For Immediate Release:
January 9, 2018
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

 

Grosso celebrates unanimous first vote for Fair Elections Act

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) on the unanimous D.C. Council first vote on the Fair Elections Act of 2017, which he introduced in March 2017:

“Today, the Council of the District of Columbia gave resounding, unanimous approval to establish a strong public campaign finance system for our local elections.

“I believe strongly that public financing of elections is one of the most vital tools to combat the corrupting influence of outsized campaign spending. Public financing of campaigns was among the first bills I introduced when I joined the Council five years ago, and I have introduced some version of this bill in every Council period since.

“This public financing system incentivizes candidates to spend more time meeting with residents and constituents, empowers residents of ordinary means to have a meaningful ability to compete for elected office, reshapes our donor class to be more inclusive and representative of the entire population of the District of Columbia, and combats the perception of pay-to-play politics.

“Fair Elections is about amplifying the voices of everyday D.C. residents.

“I look forward to final passage at the Council’s next legislative meeting. Furthermore, I remain fully committed to ensuring the success of this program when it becomes law and will work with the mayor and my colleagues through the annual budget process to make a strong investment in our local democracy by funding this legislation.

“I would also like to thank Councilmember Charles Allen and his staff, who worked tirelessly to shepherd this legislation through the Council; Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who has been an original co-introducer of this legislation with me since 2013; as well as the Fair Elections Coalition, which organized events throughout D.C. to mobilize people to support public financing of campaigns.”

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Grosso introduces bill to promote individual power in local elections

For Immediate Release: 
March 22, 2017
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Grosso introduces bill to promote individual power in local elections

Washington, D.C. – Councilmember David Grosso today introduced legislation to encourage greater participation in District of Columbia elections by providing for public financing for campaigns, shifting power and influence from big donors to smaller, individual contributors.

“Public financing of campaigns would give greater voice to all voters and reduce the disproportionate influence of big donors in D.C. politics,” Grosso said. “We must ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in and positively influence the political process, regardless of how much or how little they are able to contribute, or if they do not contribute at all.”

Under the legislation, the Fair Elections Act of 2017, qualified participating candidates are eligible to receive base amount allocations and matching payments. In exchange for receiving public financing, participating candidates would no longer be able to accept direct corporate contributions or traditional political action committee (PAC) contributions.

The contribution limits and matching funds are tiered by the office being sought, ranging from a limit of $20 for Ward State Board of Education candidates to $200 for mayor. Candidates would receive a 2-to-1 match before qualifying for the ballot, then a 5-to-1 match after.

“In addition to fighting corruption, a public financing system empowers residents of ordinary means to have a meaningful ability to compete for elected office,” Grosso said.  “This bill is about amplifying the voices of everyday D.C. residents.”

Eight of Grosso’s colleagues, Chairman Phil Mendelson, Councilmembers Charles Allen, Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Mary Cheh, Kenyan McDuffie, Trayon White, and Brianne Nadeau, joined him as co-introducers.

“The Fair Elections bill is about putting more power in the hands of DC residents. Changing the way we fund campaigns in a way that prioritizes the low-dollar donor means candidates can spend more time focused on their constituents and neighbors, rather than chasing big-dollar donors,” said Councilmember Charles Allen, chairperson of the Committee on the Judiciary, to which the bill was referred.

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Fair Elections Act of 2017

Fair Elections Act of 2017

Introduced: March 22, 2017

Co-introducers: Chairman Phil Mendelson, Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Kenyan McDuffie, Charles Allen, and Trayon White

Summary: To reform campaign financing and to provide for publicly funded political campaigns.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Today, along with my colleagues Councilmembers Charles Allen, Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Mary Cheh, Kenyan McDuffie, Trayon White and Brianne Nadeau, I am reintroducing the “Fair Elections Act of 2017.”

Since I’ve been in office, I have introduced some version of this bill in every Council period because I believe strongly that public financing of elections is one of the most vital tools to combat the corrupting influence of outsized campaign spending.

As we all know, campaign donations are a necessary, though sometimes complicated aspect of politics.

Support for candidates in the District of Columbia today generally comes from three sources: Friends of a candidate who know his or her qualifications and support their aspirations for democracy and the common good; Citizens who have views on governance and public policy, or citizens with grievances with governance; and individuals with commercial interests that either benefit or risk loss due to decisions of governance.

All of these sources are appropriate in a functioning democracy; however, the situation we face today is that we are out of balance—big donors outweigh the ability of others’ to influence campaigns.

My legislation helps to restore that balance by establishing a robust public financing program.

In Council Period 21, then-Chair of the Committee on Judiciary, Councilmember McDuffie held a hearing on this bill, which brought about important feedback and healthy criticism.

Following that hearing, my staff worked to make the changes recommended by the Attorney General and completed an in-depth analysis of the previous3 election cycles to understand what is truly needed to run a successful campaign in the District of Columbia.

Under the legislation, qualified participating candidates are eligible to receive base amount allocations and matching payments, the latter both before qualifying for the ballot and after.

In addition to fighting corruption, a public financing system empowers residents of ordinary means to have a meaningful ability to compete for elected office.  Establishing this system will allow those who may not have personal wealth or access to high-powered connections to launch competitive campaigns.

This is bill is about amplifying the voices of everyday D.C. residents and I hope that all of my colleagues will stand up for publicly funded elections and cosponsor this legislation.

I yield the remainder of my time to my co-introducers and I welcome any co-sponsors.

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Campaign finance reform goes local

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Campaign finance reform goes local

It’s a wet, chilly December morning in the nation’s capital, but the mood is upbeat in the Wilson Building, the seat of city government in Washington. D.C. Here council member David Grosso is about to unveil his latest campaign finance reform bill.

“I’m excited to be here this morning for this press conference,” he told a crowd of supporters. Grosso called the press conference to introduce what he calls fair elections legislation: a bill that would establish public financing for local candidates to counteract big money in city elections.

“For me this is about lifting up the voice of the everyday voter and making sure that individuals in the District of Columbia feel that they have the same power as the big corporations have,” he said.

[David Grosso announces campaign finance reform legislation.]

David Grosso announces campaign finance reform legislation.

Office of Council Member David Grosso

Earlier, Grosso told me he modeled his legislation after a public financing law in Connecticut, and he noticed that Seattle voters passed a measure establishing publicly funded vouchers that voters can hand out to candidates. Maine voters updated their public financing system too.  Grosso said there is a common theme across it all.

“The Supreme Court has ruled; I think the Congress members aren’t doing much of anything at all, so they’re really kind of stuck," he said. "So, all these local jurisdictions are starting to say, 'Hey, we can try to tackle this on our own.'”

Nick Penniman wants to help those local jurisdictions. He heads a campaign finance reform group called Issue One.  He wants to help local lawmakers like Grosso introduce legislation on things like public financing of elections, ethics, and lobbying reform. His plan?  Develop boilerplate reform legislation for local politicians.  

“We want to be able to give them great models that they can pull off the shelf, slap their name on, file and begin fighting for reform at the state and local level,” he said.

There’s just one problem.   A few problems, actually, according to Richard Briffault.  He’s an expert on campaign finance law at Columbia University.  Voters can have mixed feelings about public financing of elections.

“I mean public funding has often been criticized as welfare for politicians," he said. "You get politicians saying the public’s money should go to schools or police, and not to campaigns. And that’s a popular stance.”

And then you have to get candidates to accept public money and the restrictions on private fundraising that usually come with it.  

“Public funding is not going to work, in the sense of becoming taken on by significant candidates, unless there’s a significant amount of money,” Briffault said.

Still, Briffault notes, it’s not a bad idea to pick your battles, and focus on cities and states where there’s an appetite for campaign finance reform.  For Nick Penniman of Issue One, his ultimate goal is national reform.

“What we’re trying to do is build momentum at the state level so that we can eventually surround Washington with victories and with energy that Washington won’t be able to bat away anymore,” he said.

Penniman said this is like the Gilded Age, the time around the turn of the 20th century when a hyperconcentration of wealth and political corruption led to major campaign finance reform. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. 

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Grosso to Reintroduce Legislation Increasing Power of Individuals in D.C. Elections

For Immediate Release
November 30, 2015
Contact: Darby Hickey
(202) 724-8105

Grosso to Reintroduce Legislation Increasing Power of Individuals in D.C. Elections

Washington, D.C.—At the D.C. Council’s December 1 Legislative Meeting, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) will reintroduce legislation to establish a system allowing for public financing of elections in the District of Columbia. The legislation comes after Grosso successfully advocated for the dissolution of the FreshPAC and introduced a bill to close the loophole allowing unlimited fundraising by Political Action Committees during non-election years. This legislation is the latest in a series of elections and ethics reform bills that Grosso has introduced since joining the Council in 2013, including an earlier proposal for publicly financed campaigns.

“Public financing of campaigns would give greater voice to all voters and reduce the disproportionate influence of big donors in D.C. politics,” Grosso said. “We must ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in and positively influence the political process, regardless of how much or how little they are able to contribute, or if they do not contribute at all.”

Grosso’s legislation proposes to:

  •  Create a new, independent office at the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to provide robust oversight of campaign finance laws and public financing of elections.
  • Provide public dollar matches for campaign donations to candidates of $100 or less.
  • Require candidates to meet a certain threshold of small donations from D.C. residents in order to qualify to receive public financing.

At 8:30am, Tuesday, December 1, 2015, Councilmember Grosso will join the D.C. Fair Elections Coalition for a press conference on the proposed public financing of elections bill in advance of its introduction at the Legislative Meeting. The press conference will be held in room 120 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington D.C.

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Grosso Applauds Disbandment of FreshPAC

For Immediate Release

11/11/2015

Contact: Keenan Austin

202-285-6447

Grosso Applauds Disbandment of FreshPAC

Washington, D.C.--Today, Councilmember David Grosso applauded the announcement that Mayor Bowser's close allies will disband the FreshPAC. Earlier this year, Grosso introduced legislation to close a loophole to prohibit the PACs ability to raise unlimited dollars in non-election years. Grosso released the following statement:

"Regardless of the legality of the FreshPAC and its operations, the unchecked influence of large donors in campaigns undercuts the voices of everyday D.C. residents. Most disappointing about the PAC was the overt admission that it would be used to actively undermine the balance of power in the District of Columbia. It is important that the Mayor and the Council have a relationship based on mutual respect, strong oversight and accountability. We should strive for collegiality, but the people of the District of Columbia expect and deserve a Council that is not just a 'rubber stamp' for the Mayor.

Now that the Mayor's supporters have shut down this FreshPAC, the city can begin to move forward to restore credibility with voters by removing even the appearance of conflicts between city business and our elections process by enacting stronger campaign finance protections. I hope to work with the support of Mayor to enact legislation to close this loophole, and improve the campaign finance system for years to come."

Grosso's legislation to close the loophole is cosponsored by a majority of the Council, and continues through the legislative process. In early December, Grosso will also reintroduce a campaign finance reform bill to establish a system of publicly financed campaigns.  Similar to the bill he introduced in 2013, Grosso's 2015 bill would create a small dollar matching system to give everyday residents a more equal footing in the political process with big dollar donors.  "I hope that my campaign finance reform bill can move swiftly through the Council to help reform campaign donations processes in the District of Columbia to ensure our elections are fair and every voice counts," Grosso said.

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Grosso Introduces Bill to Close PAC Campaign Finance Loophole

For Immediate Release: 
10/20/2015
Contact: Darby Hickey
(202) 724-8105

Grosso Introduces Bill to Close PAC Campaign Finance Loophole

Washington, D.C.--Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), along with Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Charles Allen and Anita Bonds, introduced the Political Action Committee Contribution Regulation Amendment Act of 2015 to close the loophole in D.C. campaign finance laws allowing Political Action Committees (PACs) to raise unlimited donations in non-election years. Grosso released the following statement:
 
"Since joining the Council, I have worked to do all that I can to empower our residents to feel as though they have a strong voice in local politics.  I ran for office on a platform of good government, with transparency and ethics, and I have worked to further those goals as a Councilmember over the past three years.
 
Last year, the Council passed a law that closed the so-called 'LLC Loophole,' limiting donations of corporations to political campaigns, and bringing more transparency and accountability to the elections process. Despite that positive change, regulations were finalized that exempted Political Action Committees from the campaign finance donation limits during non-election years.   
 
While campaign donations are a necessary aspect of politics, we also must ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in and positively influence the political process, regardless of how much or how little they are able to contribute, or if they do not contribute at all. Unlimited donations undermine the voice of the people, which is why I introduced this measure to close the loophole that allows Political Action Committees to raise unlimited donations in non-election years. By striking this section of the regulations we put Political Action Committees in the same position as Principal Campaign Committees with reasonable limitations on the amount of money that any one individual or business can contribute.
 
A healthy democracy needs engagement from residents, but when residents feel their vote does not matter, they disengage from the political process. Campaign finance reform is a critical aspect of good government because it keeps elected officials accountable to every voter, not just big donors. The legislation I introduced today helps to ensure that we strike the necessary balance between competing interests and expand the opportunity for everyone to have their voices heard."

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Grosso Demands Stronger Oversight of Contracts

I write today to support Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, Chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, in his effort to pass a campaign finance reform bill that includes repealing council votes on contracts over $1 million.  For the past 11 months, I have taken a stand against this federally mandated Council requirement, and voted “present” on contracts that come before us. Continuous interference with the procurement process by the Council leads to an appearance of corruption that taints the Council’s credibility.

I am concerned that the contracting and procurement process is degraded and not enhanced by councilmembers voting on every contract over $1 million. The main purpose of contracting and procurement is to have a confidential process to ensure that the bids submitted for approval are shielded from political influence. The contract should be awarded to the company that presents the best bid and not simply to the company that has the most political connections. Throughout my time on the Council I have executed strong oversight of contracts being awarded by the Mayor’s agencies.  I have met with all interested parties and required follow-up reporting once the contracts have been awarded.  I will continue to demand vigorous oversight of every contract as it is implemented.

We must ensure that the contracting process in the District of Columbia is fair and efficient.

We also must ensure that councilmembers do not have the opportunity to improperly influence the contracting process to benefit their friends and campaign donors.

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Why D.C. needs public campaign financing

My Op-Ed on “Why D.C. needs public campaign financing” was featured in the Washington Post this past Sunday. It is clear that the moment has come for comprehensive campaign finance reform. Please share to get the conversation started. Also note that Councilmember McDuffie will hold a public roundtable on public financing of campaigns on Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 11:00 a.m. in room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building located at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.

The presence of corporate dollars flowing into D.C. elections has corrupted our electoral system and failed our residents. The system has fallen out of balance, and forces with something to gain from political influence have come to badly outweigh the interests of ordinary citizens. The solution is to increase the number of engaged residents who have a stake in ethical leaders. Fair Elections D.C., a bill that I have proposed with council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), can help restore this balance between residents and corporate interests.

To read more, click here.

To read more about campaign finance and why I vote no on contracts, click here:

Help Clean Up D.C. with Fair Elections Legislation, Washington Post

D.C. Development: Fixing the System, WAMU

Curtail D.C. Council power over contracts, Washington Post

Pol protests D.C. Council contract vote, Washington Examiner

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