His­tory shows D.C. needs cam­paign fi­nance re­form

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS -

Be­fore long, the 2018 may­oral elec­tion will be here, and the res­i­dents of the District will have an im­por­tant de­ci­sion to make. In the 40 years of D.C. home rule there have been seven may­ors, all Democrats, of the District, with ma­jor scan­dal sur­round­ing two. Mar­ion Barry’s trans­gres­sions led him to jail. A shadow cam­paign around Vin­cent C. Gray’s 2012 suc­cess­ful may­oral bid sent five peo­ple to jail.

And a mi­nor scan­dal erupted when it was dis­cov­ered that Muriel E. Bowser’s 2014 cam­paign ac­cepted $11,000 in do­na­tions over the al­lowed lim­its.

It seems strange that may­oral and D.C. Coun­cil races would be the sub­ject of cam­paign fi­nance scan­dal, but the District is dif­fer­ent from most mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. The mayor es­sen­tially acts as the gov­er­nor, and the coun­cil is the main leg­isla­tive body for more than 600,000 peo­ple. Be­cause th­ese elected of­fi­cials pro­tect the District from the whims of Congress, D.C. pol­i­tics are ex­tremely im­por­tant. The in­flu­ence that the mayor and coun­cil mem­bers wield cre­ates a com­pet­i­tive at­mos­phere when it comes time to elect gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. Can­di­dates must raise sig­nif­i­cant amounts of money to be com­pet­i­tive.

But that doesn’t mean that can­di­dates have to vi­o­late cam­paign fi­nance laws.

Mem­bers of Gray’s 2010 cam­paign pleaded guilty to fed­eral charges, and ev­i­dence sug­gests that Gray prob­a­bly knew about his cam­paign’s mis­con­duct. Re­cently, Gray used left­over funds from his suc­cess­ful 2016 D.C. Coun­cil cam­paign to pay off the $10,000 fine his may­oral cam­paign re­ceived. While that was le­gal, it seems im­proper.

Bowser’s cam­paign was caught tak­ing cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions that were over the $11,000 limit on in­di­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tions, and it had taken money from con­trac­tors that work with the city. The cam­paign of Ward 4 Coun­cil mem­ber Bran­don T. Todd (D), Bowser’s hand­picked re­place­ment for her coun­cil seat, was fined for not pro­vid­ing sources for large amounts of cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions and fail­ure of the cam­paign to col­lect donor in­for­ma­tion. This month, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Karl A. Racine (D) re­paid $3,500 in ex­cess do­na­tions from four donors to his 2014 cam­paign.

Now, signs that en­cour­age Gray to run for mayor have been pop­ping up around the District. The signs have been linked to Clin­ton LeSueur, who was an aide to for­mer mayor Adrian Fenty and who was fined by the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion for ques­tion­able cam­paign fi­nance ac­tiv­ity in his con­gres­sional run in 2002.

All of this is to say that there might be a prob­lem with cam­paign fi­nance in the District. While other elected of­fi­cials have played by the rules, the im­pro­pri­ety of a few elected of­fi­cials may in­crease the cost of cam­paigns, forc­ing other can­di­dates to find money any way they can.

The coun­cil re­cently held pub­lic hear­ings on bills in­tended to clean up the cam­paign fi­nance sys­tem in the District. Th­ese bills are im­por­tant if we want a clean and fair elec­tion next fall. When the coun­cil re­turns from its sum­mer re­cess, it should give se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion to th­ese bills. Con­stituents should tell their coun­cil mem­bers that they de­mand fair elec­tions.

Th­ese bills are im­por­tant if we want a clean and fair elec­tion next fall.

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