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Posted at 04:55 PM ET, 04/24/2012

Wilson Building approved for political meetings


As long as groups refrain from ‘activity to support or oppose any candidate for elected office,’ they can meet on city property. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

Political groups are free to use District government facilities for meetings under a recent ruling by city officials.

The Office of Campaign Finance last week dismissed a complaint filed in 2010 by city Republicans challenging the D.C. Democratic State Committee’s practice of holding its regular meetings in the John A. Wilson Building’s fourth-floor hearing room.

That, the Republicans argued, is an impermissible use of government resources for political purposes.

But officials disagreed, writing that because the Democrats “did not use the facilities to engage in any activity to support or oppose any candidate for elected office ... [or] any initiative, referendum, or recall measure,” their use of government space did not violate city law.

A lawyer for the D.C. Council, which controls the Wilson Building’s use, said that other political groups beside the Democrats have previously used the space, including “the Statehood Green Party, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, women’s groups, and ex-offender organizations.”

Anita Bonds, president of the Democratic State Committee, said she was pleased by the dismissal. “We did not want to be in any position where we are somehow not following the law,” she said.

After critics including the Washington Post editorial board raised questions about the practice, a high-profile January 2011 meeting to appoint an interim at-large council member was moved to Democratic national headquarters. But otherwise the local Democrats have continued to use the Wilson Building for their regular meetings, Bonds said, “and we hope to continue to do that.”

”We’re glad to know that everyone has use of our seat of government,” she said.

Nick Jeffress, executive director of the D.C. Republican Committee, said the group is “very disappointed” by the ruling. “We are in the process of figuring out how to respond to it,” he said.

One GOP candidate, Mary Brooks Beatty, called the ruling “an utter failure of accountability” and criticized the campaign finance office for “sid[ing] with the status quo.”

“Anyone that wants progress, transparency and a higher standard of ethics would agree that D.C. taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing partisan political meetings in the Wilson Building,”said Beatty, who is running for an at-large council seat.

By  |  04:55 PM ET, 04/24/2012

 
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