D.C. Council Passed the Measure Overwhelmingly in 2018 But It Can’t Take Effect Without $1.5 Million
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Eighteen organizations and local leaders today urged D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to fully fund the District’s pay-to-play law in her FY2021 budget so the critical good government law can take effect as scheduled in November 2020.
The D.C. Council passed the Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act in 2018, with 11 councilmembers voting for the bill. A key provision of the law limits political contributions from District contractors to elected officials who have sway over the contracting process.
But the law can’t fully take effect unless it is funded, and neither the mayor nor the Council funded it in their 2020 budgets. Money is needed to hire people and set up a database that will enable the users to cross-check contractors against campaign donations. The groups sent a letter today seeking full funding of $1.5 million.
Groups signing the letter are the Baltimore Washington Laborers’ District Council, LiUNA; DC For Democracy; Jews United for Justice; League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia; Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church; ONE DC; Public Citizen; SEIU 32BJ; SEIU Local 500; UNITE HERE Local 25; United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400; Ward 3 Democratic Committee; We Are Family Senior Outreach Network; and Working Families Party.
The District has been buffeted in recent years by pay-to-play scandals involving elected officials – the latest being former Councilmember Jack Evans, who resigned in January shortly before facing an expulsion vote. The Council had determined that Evans violated ethics laws by working as a lawyer and consultant in conflict with his Council post.
Previous scandals have involved contractors. In 2013, for instance, Councilmember Michael Brown pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe for helping what he thought was a business seeking city contract work.
“The potential for contractors to corrupt elected officials via campaign donations is well recognized nationwide,” the groups wrote. “It’s why the federal government and 15 states and dozens of cities have prohibited such contributions. The 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 groups added that “the District’s new law is strong. But it won’t be effective unless it is enforced, and that requires investment in the infrastructure and personnel as outlined in the fiscal impact statement that accompanied the legislation.”