Councilmember Allen's Committee on the Judiciary approves campaign finance bill restricting pay-to-play contributions

Today, the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee unanimously passed Committee Chairperson Charles Allen’s omnibus campaign finance reform legislation (Bill 22-0107), which proposes sweeping changes to the District’s campaign finance laws. The bill restricts political contributions by government contractors doing business with the District; addresses improper coordination between campaigns, political action committees (PACs), and independent expenditure committees (IECs); and strengthens campaign disclosure requirements.

“District residents want their voices to be heard over those of special interests,” said Councilmember Allen. “This bill, along with the Fair Elections Amendment Act passed earlier this year, will empower voters and strengthen our local democracy.”

The bill brings the District in line with campaign finance laws already in place across the country. The major components include:

Tackling Government Contractor Pay-to-Play

The bill would ban contributions to the Mayor and Attorney General, candidates running for those offices, and their affiliated political committees, from any business, including its principals, seeking or holding one or more contracts with an aggregate value of $250,000 or more, if the contract is procured by either the Executive Branch or the Office of the Attorney General.

For Councilmembers, campaign contributions would be barred from contractors and their principals seeking or holding a contract of $250,000 or more that is approved by the Council. The ban would also apply to Councilmembers’ constituent services funds.

The length of the ban varies based on the type of contract, but generally requires a “cooling off period” of one year after the contract’s end. Implementation and enforcement will be jointly overseen by the District’s contracting agencies and the Office of Campaign Finance. The bill also includes new training requirements on the law’s provisions.

Reforming Agency Oversight of Campaign Finance Laws

Under the bill, the Office of Campaign Finance would be removed from under the Board of Elections and empowered with its own independent board as the new “Campaign Finance Board.” The new Board would be made up of five members, all with campaign finance experience and expertise.

 Addressing Improper Coordination and Enhancing Disclosure Requirements

The bill addresses improper coordination between public officials and PACs and IECs with several commonsense provisions. The bill establishes a rebuttable presumption of coordination in certain situations, like when former senior staff of an elected official create a PAC that then makes expenditures to benefit that elected official.

The bill also enhances and strengthens disclosure requirements related to political ads and campaign contributions and donors.

Limiting Money in Politics

The bill makes several important reforms to limit money in politics, including the following:

Prohibiting bundling by lobbyists;

  • Requiring all campaign debts to be retired within six months, otherwise the candidate becomes personally liable for those debts;
  • Capping the personal loans a candidate can give to their campaign; and
  • Lowering the contribution limits to inaugural committees and legal defense funds from $10,000 to $2,000.

“This bill will work hand-in-hand with the Fair Elections Amendment Act of 2018, which created public financing for campaigns beginning in the 2020 election cycle,” said Councilmember Allen, who co-introduced that bill. “Taken together, these laws will transform how candidates run for office and give District residents a far more powerful voice in electing their leaders and holding them accountable.”

The omnibus bill includes aspects of several campaign finance-related measures introduced by Councilmembers Allen, Bonds, Cheh, Gray, Grosso, Nadeau, Silverman, Robert White, and Trayon White, as well as bills introduced by Chairman Mendelson and Attorney General Racine.

Bill 22-0107 will be scheduled for a first vote in the full Council on November 13.

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