As D.C. Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduce legislation requiring transition and inaugural committees to report contributions today, there’s a certain sense of deja vu. After all, it was only four years ago that the council similarly moved to enforce campaign finance reporting requirements on exploratory committees, and even today, uncertainty remains as to whether that measure has been effective.
In 2005, four potential mayoral candidates — Vincent Orange, Michael A. Brown, A. Scott Bolden and Adrian Fenty — established exploratory committees to test the waters for possible runs at the city’s highest office. At that point, contributions to exploratory committees were unlimited and anonymous, leaving each of the four to raise as much money as they wanted without any accountability to the public as to who was giving the money. Orange, currently an at-large council member, raised close to $250,000 from donors he refused to name; only Fenty voluntarily disclosed donors and donations.
In response to complaints raised in relation to the committees, the council passed the “Exploratory Committee Regulation Amendment Act” in 2007. The law not only explicitly mandated that exploratory committees file informational reports listing contributors and how much they gave, but also imposed limits on how much the committees could take in and how much individuals could contribute. According to the law, which went into effect in early 2008, a mayoral exploratory committee would be limited to $200,000, and donors to such a committee could only give $2,000 a pop. (The amounts went down from there: $150,000 and $1,500 from Council Chair, $100,000 and $1,000 for at-large council members, and so forth.) Additionally, contributions to exploratory committees would be counted as campaign contributions for the purposes of individual limits, so that one person who gave $2,000 to one mayoral exploratory committee would not then be able to give another $2,000 to the formal campaign.
Seems pretty clear, right? Well, no.
[Continue reading Martin Austermuhle’s post at DCist.com.]