Guest Commentary: Campaign Funds and Local Elections

Finance


By CBC Campaign Finance Working Group

As part of our Little City’s unique character and sense of place, community engagement, and the associated effective governance, as a key factor that helps constitute our ‘Special Source’. commonly mentioned. In fact, many of our citizens, young and old, newcomers and longtime residents, are volunteers and work hard to make Falls Church a great place to live. For example, stepping into the nightly meetings of countless local committees, commissions and other civic groups, participants routinely move the city forward towards a smoother operation and a brighter future.

But there is another very important factor that must be mentioned when considering our ‘special sauce’. It is a long-lived model of local elections. For decades, school board and city council elections have been central to effective governance in our small cities. These are truly local in concept and practice, accessible and affordable to any qualified citizen interested in becoming a candidate. Additionally, campaign spending is markedly constrained, reflecting this long-established structure. Campaign spending has been on typical items such as garden signs and printed materials. Sponsoring local events, advertising in the Falls Church news press and social media, t-shirts and buttons, campaign launches, election night and other events in between.

However, the situation is changing significantly these days. We are all witnessing an alarming trend of national interests and organizations interfering in local school board and city council elections and stimulating the campaigns of elected candidates with huge sums of money and other resources. I am aware that there are This is taking place across the country and throughout northern Virginia, and as of the 2021 election cycle, here at Falls Church, for the first time ever, a major outside donation was made to a candidate. What makes this situation even more worrying is that campaign funds and spending are virtually unregulated in Virginia, and can be used as desired by candidates during and after the election.

Inspired by these findings and concerned about the threat they represent, the CBC invited 21 local groups and organizations to discuss campaign finance issues. The meeting was held on May 17 and included designated representatives and/or members of the AAUW, Women’s History Group, Welcoming Falls Church, League of Women Voters, VPIS, Falls Church Forward, Bike Falls Church, and Two elected local government officials were present. Results include: A clear consensus that campaign funding from outside organizations and interests threatens the city’s core principles of keeping local elections local, affordable, and accessible. We agree that public attention must be focused on this issue in order to prevent a recurrence of the incident. Discussions then took place on possible ways to address this problem, including the development of plans to put “soft pressure” on those seeking to stand for election through voluntarily signed campaign finance pledges. will be split. It may include phrases such as:

“I pledge to make every effort to support my campaign with donations from family, friends and neighbors who put the interests of Falls Church first.” We strive to solicit and accept donations only from people living within our borders, with the exception of our friends and family.”

CBC volunteers are working to develop this voluntary candidate’s pledge and plan to disseminate the draft for public review and comment in time for the next election season. In addition, we intend to closely monitor candidate fundraising results and ensure that this information is posted prominently and regularly.

We sincerely hope for continued public debate on campaign finance issues and the broad range of accompanying input from the community. The more parties involved, the stronger the spotlight, and the greater the public pressure to ensure that school board and city council elections remain local, affordable, and accessible. may become.

Please send any questions or comments to fallchurchcbc@gmail.com. Submitted by the CBC Campaign Finance Working Group: Hal Lipman, Don Foley, Ross Litkenhouse, Pete Davis, Sally Eckfeldt, Nancy Brandon.



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