Dec. 5, 2018

D.C. Council Passes Sweeping Anti-Corruption Reform Legislation

Following Passage of D.C. Fair Elections Program, 2018 Marks the Most Progress Combating Big Money in Politics in Council History

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pay-to-play and ethics reform legislation passed by the District of Columbia Council last night will strengthen small-donor public financing of D.C. elections and restrict the influence of private contractors on public policy, Public Citizen said today after the Council voted unanimously to implement far-reaching changes to campaign finance rules.

The legislation would curtail political contributions from District contractors to elected officials with sway over the contracting process.

Championed by Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the bill incorporates proposals from a variety of councilmembers including Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), David Grosso (I-At-Large), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), Robert White (D-At-Large), Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) and Attorney General Karl Racine via Council Chair Phil Mendelson.

“I am so proud of this courageous D.C. Council. By passing both Fair Elections and pay-to-play reform, this council has taken sweeping action to rein in big money in politics and to put everyday voters at the center of elections, more than any other council before it,” said Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign. “I hope the mayor joins in the effort as she did with fair elections by signing this bill.”

“D.C. has long had a problem with a pay-to-play culture in government contracting. It is refreshing to see the D.C. Council step up to the plate and squarely address this problem,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The case record of actual and perceived corruption when government contractors make campaign contributions to those responsible for awarding the contracts is so deep that even those courts opposed to campaign finance reform routinely uphold the constitutionality of pay-to-play laws.”

“The Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act is a major step forward for the District of Columbia to minimize the influence of money in our campaigns and government and ensure the voices of residents are what matters most. Along with my Fair Elections Act passed earlier this year, these two bills will be a robust effort to help D.C. residents trust that their voices and participation in civic life matter and ensure candidates of all backgrounds can run for office with a viable path forward based on their ideas and not on who they know,” said Allen following the vote.

Allen’s “Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2018” (B22-0107) will:

• Restrict major government contractors from making campaign contributions to those responsible for issuing the contracts, addressing ongoing concerns about pay-to-play politics;
• Ensure the independence from political interference of the campaign finance enforcement agency;
• Enhance the disclosure requirements for money in District elections and require that “independent” expenditures be truly independent of candidates; and
• Mandate training of all candidates and campaign treasurers of the campaign finance and ethics laws.

Washington, D.C., like many large American cities, has a long history of public corruption controversies. As the city grows, many residents increasingly feel priced out of their own elections. For this reason and others, Public Citizen has enthusiastically supported the movement toward fair and clean elections. Last night’s Council vote will reinforce that movement.

“It’s a proud day for the D.C. Council and the people of D.C. While money in politics is an ongoing challenge, the pay-to-play reform bill severs the direct link between campaign contributions and the awarding of government contracts and subsidies,” said Keshini Ladduwahetty, president of DC for Democracy. “Together with Fair Elections, we have taken major steps toward a more perfect democracy.”

“Jews United For Justice applauds the D.C. Council for voting to curb pay-to-play politics in D.C. Whether real or perceived, these activities weaken people's trust in our local democracy. We were proud to advocate for this bill and look forward to supporting its implementation,” said Joanna Blotner, organizer with Jews United for Justice.

Councilmember Quotes
“Campaign finance and elections reforms were among the promises I made to the residents of the District of Columbia when I first ran for office in 2012. The passage of this bill, combined with the passage of the Fair Elections Act earlier this year, fundamentally changes how elections are financed and organized, and how we govern. These two bills are an investment not only in our elections, but our citizens, and better public policy in the future. It is my hope, that in four years, we won’t recognize our campaign system, we won’t feel beholden to any special interests and we will govern accordingly.”

- Councilmember David Grosso (I-At-Large)

“I’m an enthusiastic supporter of this entire bill, especially the provisions that will limit any opportunities for pay-to-play politics. Political contributions should not be the expected cost of doing business at the Wilson Building. This bill is a huge step toward making our elections better reflect the will of our residents and restoring their confidence in our elections and our government.” 

- Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large)

“I was proud to support the Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2017, which includes some of the most significant reforms to our campaign finance system in many years. This bill will help reduce the lopsided influence of money in our politics and encourage candidates to focus on those who matter – our residents.”

– Councilmember Robert White (At-Large)

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