In the wake of several highly-publicized corruption scandals, last week D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray released a draft campaign finance reform proposal. The proposed legislation, which is currently undergoing a public comment period before it is sent to the D.C. Council in a few weeks’ time, can be found here. Among other reforms, the wide-ranging package would enact a “pay-to-play” prohibition for those holding or seeking contracts with the city valued at $250,000 or more, ban bundling of contributions by lobbyists, and enhance public disclosure of contributions and expenditures. (More to come on the pay-to-play provision.)
One less-publicized provision of the bill has arguably gained importance in the wake of a court ruling yesterday. Activists have been collecting signatures in order to place “Initiative 70”—a ban on various corporate, LLC, and partnership political contributions—on the November ballot. But the city elections board ruled the petition lacked sufficient valid signatures, a decision challenged in court. Proponents asked, and yesterday the court agreed, to postpone argument so that additional signatures might be validated over the next four weeks. Because preparations for the November election will be underway by then, Initiative 70 will not go to the voters this fall.
Short of banning corporate contributions outright, Mayor Gray’s proposal targets a similar, related issue with no less significance. Currently, D.C. law allows numerous corporate entities owned or controlled by a single person to make political contributions. Proposed language in the legislation would apply a single contribution limit to all political giving by “an entity” and its “related parties,” including officers, directors and any person “controlling” the entity. A similar proposal was defeated just last year by a 12-1 vote in the D.C. Council. While past votes are often a good predictor of future behavior, nothing can turn an elected official more quickly toward supporting campaign finance reform than the indictment of fellow legislators, and the need to distance oneself from such a scandal.