On their face, Constituent Service Funds were set up to help those in need across the District by our council members. What they were set up for and what they have been used for seem to be two vastly different things. Rarely, did the privately raised money go to help pay utility bills or for groceries or for some other necessity for our neighbors in need. Critics say that they have merely been political slush funds used to buy sports tickets for buddies or some other non-need in life.
DC for Democracy (www.dcfordemocracy.org) has done a good analysis of how each council member spent their constituent service funds and most are not for constituent services. With each council member by law being allowed to raise $80,000 per year that means cumulatively the city council could raise $1,040,000 from private resources for whatever they want to spend the money on.
Of course if these funds are allowed to continue to exist the money should go for community events or constituents in need. For a fantasy moment, for the sake of DC Statehood just think about how much money that is. As an example: the Office of the Secretary for the District of Columbia in September awarded two grants for ‘self-determination’ with $150,000 going to DC Vote and $50,000 going to Stand Up! for DC Democracy(FreeDC). That’s a combined $200,000 for non-profits to push for the full citizenship rights of all District citizens. Heck, if the council devoted 50% of their constituent services funds (if they all raised the maximum amount) that would be $520,000 going toward the push for statehood. If council members committed 50% of their funds for the Statehood cause that would more than double the resources that the Office of the Secretary committed this year. The reality is that council members in 2010 raised a combined $308,000 for their constituent service funds so the $500K mentioned above is a mere fantasy but if they did commit 50% in 2010 that would be $150,000 which is still a considerable amount of money that could be used for education, outreach, organizing, and other pro-statehood activities.
Not only have council members not exercised the best judgement in how they utilize these funds but it seems like a huge missed opportunity. With Congress always putting restrictions on how the District spends its money it seems like the City Council, member-by-member could put their money where their mouth is and commit 50% of their constituent services funds to fund organizations that are fighting to stay afloat financially while fighting for the rights of all District citizens.
Of course the best course of action would probably be to get rid of these funds altogether since they really aren’t used for what they were intended and there’s little regulation/control over them but boy is it a wasted opportunity to put that private money to good use for all District citizens. The ultimate service for constituents is to commit, time, energy, and money to fight so that all of us lowly 601,000 constituents will one day become full and equal citizens with the other 300 million Americans.
Just a thought…to join us, to form a statehood group, or to host a teach-in at our house email us at firstname.lastname@example.org