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July 10, 2013

Reforming Reform

Dear Reformers:

Not everything that is called reform reforms anything. The safe bet is that legislation that is called reform legislation will make things worse. That’s the case with Councilmembers David Grosso’s and Kenyan McDuffie’s "Public Financing of Political Campaigns Amendment Act of 2013," B20-120. Here’s how you actually reform campaign financing in the District of Columbia: 1) you write clear legislation that is simple and easy to understand, 2) you require comprehensive and complete public reports, and 3) you enforce the rules and reporting requirements actively, and prosecute violations. It’s as simple as that, but the council avoids doing it by doing everything else.

Grosso’s and McDuffie’s bill is complex, complicated, and difficult to understand; it does nothing to improve reporting requirements, and it abolishes the Office of Campaign Finance and replaces it with a new "Office of Campaign Financing Oversight Office," which will have the additional duty of determining whether politicians spend their campaign funds in approved ways. Sam Smith describes the danger of badly written laws like this in the latest issue of Undernews, "In Washington these days, morality is defined not by philosophy or principles but by restrictive words written by lawyers and ambiguous phrases concocted by public relations experts. Politicians, their academic groupies in the think tanks, and the media accept these words and phrases with little question. Thus justice becomes not a matter of broad decency but of narrow definition and indefinable euphemism,"

Rather than simple ethics reform, the council is bent on engaging in questionable election law experiments. Grosso describes his plans for future mischief in an op-ed article in Sunday’s Washington Post, "Future elections and ethics reforms that we should pursue include open primaries, instant runoff elections, nonpartisan elections, a ban on corporate campaign contributions, and other efforts to encourage the engagement of more people in DC politics." Give me one example of where anything he’s proposing would have effectively addressed any of the instances of political corruption in the District of Columbia in the past — or in the future.


Deborah Simmons writes in The Washington Times,, that, "DC Council’s David Catania Is No Reformer When It Comes to Education": "Indeed, the czar [Catania] would become macro- and micromanager of the already fractured public schooling system. Parents, school officials, and civic groups already have pointed out — and are decrying — Mr. Catania’s educational package for other reasons, as well.

"Mr. Catania also is proposing to increase funding to high-poverty students, arguing, as the federal government has for generations, that they need larger handouts if they are ever going to get a leg up. Well, Ms. Rhee made a similar argument, got oodles of money and students are still falling into the breeches — of education, of race, of employment, of crime, of health, and of family values. Mr. Catania is a wizard with no Oz."


Jeff Guo, "Reforming Michelle Rhee: Running the Show in DC Didn’t Work Out. Now in Tennessee, She’s Hoping Cash Is King," in the New Republic, "Ever since she resigned as chancellor of Washington, DC, public schools in 2010 and started StudentsFirst, Rhee has raised millions of dollars from rich donors, which she funnels to local lawmakers who support her policies. Nowhere has her influence been felt more acutely than in Tennessee, where campaigns are a bargain and where legislators eager to amend the state’s dismal record on education have made it a Mecca for reformers. To Rhee the mission also has a personal angle: Her ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, is commissioner of the state Department of Education and her two daughters attend school in Nashville." Guo concludes his article with a quote from an opponent of Rhee in Tennessee: "‘Whatever your initial intentions are, whatever your initial ideals were, once your measurements are how many legislators you control and how many laws were passed, you are nothing but a political movement,’ says Mark North, the former Nashville school board member. ‘You are not an education movement. And when you get there, so that your only success, like a street gang, is what corner you control, you run the risk of losing your soul and losing your focus. It becomes about elections and politics, instead of schoolchildren.’"


Nobody took me up on my invitation in the last issue of themail to respond to Travel and Leisure’s charge that Washington is a snobby city because Washingtonians are unfriendly. Any response?

Gary Imhoff


Public Financing for Campaigns
Dorothy Brizill,

Thursday morning, June 11, the council’s Government Operations Committee will hold a hearing in the Council Chambers on "the feasibility of converting to a public financing model for elections in the District of Columbia." According to committee chair Kenyan McDuffie, his goal is to begin a public dialogue on the issue and not to focus on any particular bill before the council. It is clear, however, that he testimony of many witnesses will be influenced by Bill 20-120, the "Public Financing of Political Campaigns Amendment Act of 2013, which is the only public financing bill current before the council. This bill was drafted by Councilmember David Grosso and is largely based on a federal public financing bill, the "Fair Elections Now Act," which Common Cause has tried, unsuccessfully, to get through Congress. As a result, many of the provisions in the Grosso bill have not made an easy transition from a federal public financing proposal to a workable public financing program in the District. In addition, many of the provisions in the Grosso bill are confusing and controversial. For example, funds for the Election Fund would be raised by assessing "a fee in the amount of one percent on every public contract" of one million dollars or more. That "assessed fee" will, of course, be a cost DC taxpayers will then pay when contractors are forced to raise the cost of their contracts to pay the fee. The Grosso legislation also abolishes the DC Office of Campaign Finance under the jurisdiction of the Board of Elections and establishes a new Campaign Financing Oversight Office within the DC Board of Ethics and Government Accountability.


DC Vote Supports Spending Local Tax Money for Abortions
James Jones,

DC Vote is activating a powerful coalition of partners who are prepared to engage their broad, nationwide membership in an effort to remove an onerous provision in the draft FY 2014 appropriations bill for the District of Columbia. The House Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee draft bill bars the District from spending local, DC tax revenue to provide women struggling to make ends meet the ability to make the personal decision to end a pregnancy without interference. This would overturn a decision already made by District leaders and supported by District residents. Last week, DC Vote sent a letter to House Appropriations Committee members signed by fifty-three local and national organizations urging the Congress to refrain from attaching social policy "riders" to the 2014 DC spending bill. In the letter, the groups indicated they would activate their substantial and active membership in the event a DC rider was added.

DC Vote informed the organizations who signed the July 2nd letter about the language in the House subcommittee draft, and encouraged them to have their members from around the country weigh in with their own representatives. Our coalition is prepared to fight this battle to the end.


Changing Election Rules
Jonetta Rose Barras,

It used to be that members of the DC council vigorously sought to preserve the powers and prerogatives of committee chairmen. That seems to be going down the tube this week. Chairman Phil Mendelson is expected to introduce emergency legislation Wednesday to change the date for the primary election from April 1, to June 10, 2014. That maneuver comes after it became apparent there was insufficient support for the measure within the Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Kenyan McDuffie.

Read it at Meanwhile, guest commentator Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner L. Asher Corson blasts Ward 2’s Jack Evans for supporting a $2.8 million land give away.


How NARPAC Fits in with Other Activist Groups
Len Sullivan,

This week we provide seven basic reasons why we think we are relatively unique among the dozens of active organizations trying to improve the performance of our congress and government. And we admit we cannot possibly do these things alone: only help sow the seeds for major reform at.


Americans for the Arts Honors DC’s 5x5
Sarah Massey, DCCAH,

The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH) is pleased to announce three DCCAH commissioned public art projects from the inaugural 5x5 public art biennale have been selected by the Americans for the Arts (AFTA) Public Art Network’s Year in Review Top 50 Projects of 2013. The AFTA Year in Review is the only national program that specifically recognizes public art projects. The honor couldn’t have come at a better time, as DCCAH is simultaneously promoting the 2014 Call to Curators for 5x5.

The award-winning projects were Home Mender by Monica Canilao (curated by Justine Topher), Henry "Box" Brown: FOREVER by Wilmer Wilson (curated by Laura Roulet), and The Polygonal Address System by Steve Badgett and Deborah Stratman (curated by Steve Rowell). They were presented by the Year in Review jurors at the June 2013 AFTA — Public Art Preconference. "We are very excited to be recognized for public art," said Judith Terra, Chair of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. "This honor represents a growing arts scene in Washington, DC. "We expect that the 5x5 project in 2014 will be as exciting as the previous one," said Lionell Thomas, Executive Director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. "Plans are already underway to build on the previous success with new and dynamic offerings." The 2014 Call to Curators for 5x5 is currently active through July 15. For more information on how to apply please visit



DC State Board of Education Working Session and Public Meeting, July 10, July 31
Jesse B Rauch, Executive Director, 202-741-0884,

The District of Columbia State Board of Education (State Board) will hold a working session that is a briefing on the revised LEA Report Cards on July 24, 4:30 p.m., at 441 4th Street, NW, Room 842. Individuals and representatives of organizations will not be permitted to speak or participate during the working session. However, individuals and representatives of organizations may submit written testimony for consideration by the Board. Written testimony may also be submitted by E-mail at Further, in compliance with the Open Meetings Act (DC Code §2-574), the State Board will also hold two closed meetings on July 17 and July 18 to engage in professional development regarding strategic planning.

The next public meeting of the State Board will take place on Wednesday, July 31, in the Old Council Chamber (1st Floor) located at 441 4th Street, NW. At this time, the State Board is scheduled to discuss revised LEA report cards. Individuals and representatives of organizations who wish to comment at the meeting are asked to notify State Board staff in advance by phone at 741-0888 or by E-mail at and furnish their names, addresses, telephone numbers, and organizational affiliation, if any, by the close of business the Monday prior to the meeting. They should also bring fifteen copies of their written statements with them to the meeting and are encouraged to submit one electronic copy in advance.


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