Campaign Finance Woes in the District Council
Only two members of the District Council have pledged publicly to restrict corporate contributions and influence on local campaigns.
New campaign finance legislation aimed at reducing corporate influence on local governance and campaigns lacks support from the majority of District Council members. Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh are the only two to co-introduce the “Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2012.”
Last year, Wells tried to tack on similar regulations to ban "bundling" onto an ethics bill, but all 12 other councilmembers — including Cheh — voted against it.
The new legislation "would prohibit pay-to-play, require disclosure of external fundraising activities, and – most notably – ban corporate contribution," according to a press release from Cheh's office.
The ban on corporate contributions takes aim at the practice of "bundling." Under current rules a company can give the maximum amount directly to a candidate from any and all of its subsidiaries. So a developer who creates an LLC for each and every project can give the maximum of $500 or $1,000 from each LLC, depending on which office the candidate is running for.
Another notable element of the proposed legislation is that it prohibits the awarding of any contract to a company, individual or contractor who has given "$2,000 or more within the previous three years to benefit a candidate who may vote on, or have approval of, the award of a contract."
The reasoning behind her proposed rules, explained Cheh in a statement, is that "How and from what sources candidates for public office fund their campaigns needs to be more transparent."
"Campaign finance violations in DC have triggered numerous federal investigations and corrupted DC's political process, but the vast majority of sitting DC councilmembers still seem unwilling to risk cutting off their own sources of money to fix a serious problem."
Ethics problems in local government came back into the spotlight on Friday when federal agents raided the home and office of big-time campaign donor Jeff Thompson. Though Vincent Orange has received much of the attention for his links to Thompson, according to the Washington City Paper, the only sitting member of the District Council not to receive a contribution from Thompson is Ward 6's Tommy Wells.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans did not support Well's previously proposed new legislation on ethics. As he wrote in his constituent newsletter in December, the current rules are not good enough, but they are not effectively enforced.
But he added, "I support enhanced disclosure requirements, more rigorous enforcement when violations are discovered, and more meaningful penalties assessed on violators."
When his campaign finance amendment to the ethics legislation was voted down, Wells told WAMU at the time, "I really don't believe the majority of my colleagues realize there is a crisis in confidence and I think they are doing their best to not change the political world for themselves."
Take our poll and tell us why you support or don't support the new legislation in the comments section.