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D.C. Council to Consider Sweeping Pay-to-Play Reform Legislation to Complement Public Financing

Oct. 18, 2018

D.C. Council to Consider Sweeping Pay-to-Play Reform Legislation to Complement Public Financing

Proposal Would Ban Campaign Contributions From Government Contractors, Ensure Independence of Enforcement Agency

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pay-to-play and ethics reform legislation being considered Thursday by a D.C. Council committee is designed to build upon the new small-donor public financing program and should be passed, Public Citizen said today.

The bill, championed by Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) incorporates proposals from Councilmembers 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.

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

  • 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.

Public Citizen enthusiastically supports this growing movement toward fair and clean elections.

“Following passage of the Fair Elections Act, which allows candidates the option of replacing large contributions of special interest money with small donations matched by public funds, this measure would close many of the loopholes left in D.C.’s campaign finance system,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. “It creates an agency independent from political interference to enforce the new campaign finance law, and it enhances disclosure and training so the public and candidates, too, may monitor compliance.”

The legislation (B22-0107) which was originally proposed by Councilmembers Allen, Bonds and Grosso, integrates key components of (B22-0047), which was introduced by Council Chair Phil Mendelson, and Councilmembers Robert White, Mary Cheh, Elissa Silverman, Charles Allen, David Grosso, Brianne Nadeau and Trayon White, Sr. It takes components from pay-to-play legislation authored by Gray with White and other ethics reform proposals heard by the Judiciary Committee last year.

The measure addresses pay-to-play politics. A study by Patrick Madden at WAMU-FM found that businesses seeking government contracts with the District have provided $5 million in campaign contributions from 2005 to 2014 to councilmembers who award these contracts. Roughly one-fifth of all contributions came from government contractors – often made months or weeks ahead of the awarding of the contracts.

A Public Citizen report in 2016 found that controversial contractor Fort Myer and its executives were the largest contributors to the D.C. Council early in the 2016 primary, and that construction and real estate interests dominate any other industry in terms of amount of contributions.

“The pay-to-play culture in District politics is worrisome,” said Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign. “Government contracts are routinely awarded to major campaign contributors, at taxpayer expense, which may have nothing to do with merit. Too many businesses believe they are expected to ‘pay to play’ just to compete for a government contract.”