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The Ballot Box vs. Campaign Cash

D.C. Restaurants Flood Campaign Coffers to Overturn Ballot Initiative That Raised Minimum Wage for Tipped Workers

By Michael Tanglis

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Key Findings

  • Anti-Initiative 77 entities contributed $236,013 to D.C.’s current 14 elected officials during their two most recent campaigns. Nearly all of the money went to officials who came out against Initiative 77.
  • The average contribution to D.C.’s elected officials over their two most recent campaigns by anti-Initiative 77 entities has been $733, about double the $388 average contribution by other donors.
  •  Anti-Initiative 77 entities have contributed $130,270 to the seven D.C. councilmembers who have signed on to legislation to repeal the initiative. That is three times more than the $40,693 that they have given to the six councilmembers who have not signed on to the repeal legislation.
  • Mayor Bowser has received the most from anti-Initiative 77 individuals and entities, more than $65,000.
  • During the 2018 election cycle, Bowser and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, the two most important elected officials in deciding the fate of Initiative 77, have received 80 percent of the money from anti-Initiative 77 forces.
  • Anti-Initiative 77 forces contributed $25,900 to D.C. elected officials in March 2018. Of this, $20,250 went to Mendelson.
  • Mendelson has received $31,500 from anti-Initiative 77 forces during the 2018 election cycle. During his last campaign, in 2014, he received only $2,500 from these contributors.
  • More anti-Initiative 77 contributions came from corporations, LLCs, and corporate PACs than people. In total, 56 percent of the money ($131,743) came from corporations, LLCs or corporate PACs.
  • Opponents of Initiative 77 claim that it is not necessary because restaurants are required to ensure that tipped employees’ wages at least equal the minimum wage. But several restaurants in Washington, D.C. have faced allegations of violating wage and hour laws. A few cases resulted in class-action settlements:

o Farmers Restaurant Group, which opposed Initiative 77 and contributed $6,000 to the anti-Initiative 77 committee, recently settled – without admitting wrongdoing –a class-action lawsuit for $1.49 million for allegedly failing to pay overtime and failing to pay the minimum wage. Rather than pass a minimum wage increase, Farmers’ co-owner Dan Simons proposed allowing an employee to work “60 hours or 55 hours” a week with no overtime pay in order to raise wages.

o Clyde’s Restaurant Group, which opposed Initiative 77, settled two lawsuits. In 2010 and 2011, Clyde’s was sued in D.C. and Virginia for, among other things, allegedly failing to pay its tipped employees the minimum wage and for altering time clock entries in order to avoid paying overtime. Both lawsuits settled without Clyde’sadmitting liability, one for $345,000 and the other for an undisclosed amount.Clyde’s corporations and executives have contributed $57,600 to the campaigns of the elected officials covered in this analysis and contributed another $16,000 to the to the anti-Initiative 77 committee.