D.C. Council committee takes up campaign finance reform bills

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The D.C. Council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety took up the issue of campaign finance reform at a public input session on Monday.

Committee chair and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen said the four bills discussed in this hearing and others that had hearings a few weeks ago, show there is a concern among the public and councilmembers that D.C. is "pay-to-play"

"That contractors are giving money to the very people that then make the decision about who wins that contract. We want to make sure that there is confidence in your government and with contracting for services," added Allen.

"Right now, campaigns rely heavily on a small group of mega donors who can give maximum contributions," said At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman who added there is a problem with the status quo.

At-large Councilmember Robert White joined the hearing, even though he isn’t a committee member, and said his experience running against an incumbent showed him the need for campaign finance reform.

"I heard again and again from potential supporters that they would like to donate to my campaign, but they could not, because they feared it would hurt their business in the District. This is indefensible," said White.

A focus of one bill would restrict donors from engaging in major business with the District government for a time after their donation.

Members of the business community at the hearing criticized the proposals and said it prevents corporations hoping to do business with the District from taking part in the political process.

"It would also take away the voice of the group that provides a large portion of the operational funds of our government," said Eric Jones, the Associate Director of Government Affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Metro Washington.

Those in favor of reform said anything that is done, must be clear and effective.

"Any campaign finance laws we have should be simple, should be easily understood, should be easily enforced, so that people know what is expected of them and not to play a gotcha game," said Dorothy Brizill of the government watchdog group, D.C. Watch.

Allen said he would like to take the best bits of each piece of legislation and craft it into one that will hopefully be voted out of the committee and to the full council.