Latest D.C. candidate to swear off corporate money is a Republican

Hammond, 41, spent 10 years as a civil rights lawyer in the Justice Department. (Photo courtesy of Kris Hammond)
Hammond, 41, spent 10 years as a civil rights lawyer in the Justice Department. (Kris Hammond)

It has become somewhat fashionable of late for D.C. political candidates of a progressive bent to publicly forego campaign contributions from corporations — potentially hamstringing their fundraising but demonstrating their good-government bona fides to left-leaning voters.

Maybe it’s not just good politics for unabashed liberals, it turns out: The latest city candidate to swear off corporate contributions is Kris Hammond, Republican candidate for D.C. Council chairman.

While corporations may not donate directly to candidates on the federal level, they are permitted to donate to D.C. candidates. D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) eschewed corporate cash during his unsuccessful mayoral run earlier this year, Charles Allen (D) has also done so in his thus-far successful bid to replace Wells on the council, and Elissa Silverman, who is currently mounting an independent run for an at-large council seat, has made her pledge and her support for a ballot initiative banning corporate campaign contributions a cornerstone of her campaign identity.

Hammond said his stand against taking corporate donations is meant to “give some teeth” to his “accountability platform” that also includes term limits. Corporate campaign contributions, he said Monday, are “part of an incumbents’ protection racket” that helps fend off energetic challengers such as himself.

Yes, Hammond acknowledged, as a newcomer taking on veteran incumbent Phil Mendelson (D), there wasn’t a boatload of corporate cash floating his way in any case. But he said he turned away at least one large corporate donation that could have padded the $17,572 he has gathered since announcing his candidacy last month.

Mendelson has not filed his report for the most recent reporting period, but of the $100,591 in donations he has already reported, $36,811 was donated from businesses and their political action committees. Another $22,000 came from labor groups, with the balance coming from individuals.

Said Mendelson, “In the end I think you have too look at the record of the person who is running for office.”

Hammond, a former Justice Department lawyer, is not against all corporate involvement in electoral politics, as it happens. He said he agreed with the Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the landmark case that effectively legalized unlimited corporate spending on behalf of political candidates. The implications for free speech, he said, were too great for the court to ignore, but Hammond said he feels that the continuing federal ban on direct corporate contributions to campaigns is wise and constitutional. (The Supreme Court has declined to take at least one case that challenged the constitutionality of the ban on direct corporate giving to candidates.)

“This is not particularly groundbreaking,” Hammond said of his anti-corporate-giving stance. “This is something that just makes sense.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · August 11