Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), whose Government Operations Committee is hosting the hearing, is charged with hammering out an ethics overhaul from nine competing bills, whose proposals run the gamut from tightening campaign finance disclosure requirements to banning campaign contributions from lobbyists and city contractors to overhauling constituent service funds to term limits for elected officials.
In an appearance on NewsChannel 8 today, Bowser pledged to pursue one particular change, to split the current Board of Elections and Ethics into discrete bodies. “I think they need to be split so there’s one entity focused on ethics and ethics alone,” she said. The reforms, she added, “have to have teeth. ... The public will not take any less.”
In addition to the legislator-proposed ethics overhauls, at least two non-government groups have come forward with their own recommendations. A special committee of the D.C. Democratic State Committee has drafted a list of recommendations that includes drastic new limits on campaign contributions. For instance, under their recommendations, donations to a mayoral campaign currently limited to $2,000 would be limited to $500. Inaugural planning committees could take no more than $100 per donor, and privately funded transition accounts would be prohibited. Also proposed is a strict ban on gifts worth more than $100 and “discounted legal representation,” as well as new limits on Council members’ outside employment.
D.C. for Democracy, a progressive-minded group, is calling for a laundry list of reforms that includes a ban on political contributions from any entity that “solicits or has a contract or agreement” with the city government. According to an advance copy of its testimony, the group would also bar anyone convicted of or penalized for “insurance, financial, contracting or other types of fraud” from city business for five years. And it would establish an independent ethics commission to “strictly enforce all ethics and conflict-of-interest laws and regulations, and financial disclosure requirements for elected officials, with sufficient staff and adequate funding, to properly carry out its responsibilities.”
Representatives from both the Democratic State Committee and D.C. for Democracy will testify tomorrow.
A preliminary witness list circulated today also includes a number of lobbyists (Rod Woodson, Barbara Lang, Eric Jones), civic activists (Dorothy Brizill, Robert Brannum), several current and former candidates for office (Josh Lopez, Bryan Weaver, Max Skolnik, Keith Jarrell, Tom Brown) and one former Council member (Kathy Patterson). At least 26 public witnesses are set to testify.
On behalf of the government agencies that could be affected by the overhaul, testifying will be Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery of the Office of Campaign Finance, Paul Stenbjorn of the Board of Elections and Ethics, and Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby.
This report has been updated.