D.C. Restaurants Bankroll Council Campaigns to Overturn Voter Initiative on Tipped Wages

Sept. 13, 2018

D.C. Restaurants Bankroll Council Campaigns to Overturn Voter Initiative on Tipped Wages

Council Will Soon Decide Whether to Side With Industry or D.C. Voters

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Washington restaurants seeking to convince the D.C. Council to overturn a voter initiative to raise their workers’ wages have flooded members of the Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser with campaign contributions during the elected officials’ two most recent campaigns, according to a new report by Public Citizen.

In June, voters in the district approved Initiative 77, which called for gradually raising the minimum wage of tipped workers to the same level as non-tipped workers. The area restaurant industry immediately began pressing the city’s government to overturn the will of the voters. Seven of the D.C. Council’s 13 members soon co-sponsored legislation to void the initiative. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for Sept. 17.

“Councilmembers will have to decide if they want to follow the wishes of their constituents or their donors,” said Michael Tanglis, a senior researcher for Public Citizen and author of the report. “The speed at which the Council is moving to undo the will of the voters is surprising, but then again, very few things get the gears of government moving like money in campaign coffers.”

Restaurants and their owners opposed to Initiative 77 and political committees funded by them have contributed $236,013 to the city’s current elected officials over their past two campaigns, according to the report, “The Ballot Box Vs. Campaign Cash.”

The seven council members co-sponsoring the repeal legislation have received $130,270 over their two most recent campaigns from entities opposing Initiative 77. The six members who have not signed on have received just $40,693. Only two councilmembers neither favored the initiative nor the repeal legislation. They have received just $1,565 from anti-Initiative 77 forces.

More anti-Initiative 77 contributions came from corporations, LLCs or corporate PACs than people. In total, 56 percent of contributions ($131,743) came from corporations, LLCs or corporate PACs.

The vast majority of contributions covered in the analysis came during either the 2014, 2016 or 2018 election cycles. The contributions in the 2014 and 2016 cycles were given prior to the fight over Initiative 77, and likely reflected a desire by the restaurant industry to influence officials over other issues or cultivate their goodwill in general.

During the 2014 cycle, restaurant owners could use multiple corporations and LLCs to contribute large sums of money to a single campaign. But a change to D.C. campaign finance law that went into effect in early 2015 limited business owners to a single maximum contribution from one of the businesses they own.

“The fact that the will of roughly 160 restaurant owners and corporations is being prioritized over that of the 44,000 D.C. voters who approved the measure makes one thing crystal clear,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at Public Citizen. “All candidates for office in D.C. need to use the public financing program in the future. It’s the only way to ensure that big money doesn’t drown out the will of the people.”

Public Citizen also released a detailed data map of all of the contributions from anti-Initiative 77 individuals and entities.

Read the full report (PDF.) 

###