D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) on Monday all but declared campaign finance reform dead for the session, saying there is almost no chance the body can complete work on the issue before the Christmas recess.
Speaking at his monthly news conference, Mendelson noted the bill would have to come up for an initial vote Tuesday for the body to hold the required two votes on legislation before the period ends.
“It’s not on the committee markup, so we cannot have two meetings,” said Mendelson, noting the final meeting of the 19th council period is scheduled for Dec. 18.
Mendelson’s comment tracks with earlier statements by council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), the chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, that comprehensive campaign finance reform is not likely before the end of the year.
Bowser said in an interview last week that many council members have told her they do not want to rush the issue, fearing rapid change could lead to unintended consequences.
Last year, she noted, the council pushed to meet then council chairman Kwame R. Brown’s self-imposed deadline to enact ethics reform before going on holiday recess. The council was then forced to go back an amend several provisions of the bill after mistakes or oversights were identified.
“They’d rather have more time to consider it,” Bowser said. “They are complicated issues.”
In March, D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduced legislation that would ban corporate contributions and limit city contractors’ ability to contribute to council members.
In late August, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan outlined several proposals that would curb political donations from anyone with a city contract of $250,000 or more, prohibit lobbyists from bundling contributions, and ban corporations from donating through various linked entities. The legislation would also bolster reporting requirements, including requiring all campaign donations within 30 days of an election be disclosed within 24 hours.
In an interview Friday, Gray said he was disappointed that the campaign finance debate is likely being put off until 2013.
“I wish it were being done, so we can get some guidance out,” said Gray, who proposed the legislation amid the federal investigation into his 2010 campaign. “I really wish it would be done by the end of this year.”
Bowser said Gray’s proposal is serving as the basis of draft legislation that the council will likely eventually consider. But Bowser said members want more guidance from the Office of the Campaign Finance about how the changes would affect fundraising and reporting requirements.
“What I recognize is a lot of people don’t know the practical end of campaign finance machinations,” Bowser said. “You have to have the enforcement agency kind of helping us understanding the practical implications of any changes. Otherwise, we get laws that we don’t enforce.”
The delay also likely reflects Mendelson’s cautious approach. He and other council members urged a similar go-slow approach with the ethics bill last year but were overruled by Brown, who was trying to insulate the council’s reputation at time when both he and former council member Harry Thomas Jr. were under federal investigation.
Bowser insists she is not sitting on the reform legislation to try to kill it, noting its possible the bill could come up for vote soon into the new year.
But such a delay means it not likely substantial reforms will be enacted in time to be implemented for the 2014 mayoral and council elections.