First off, Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) introduced her own ethics reform legislation, which joins bills already introduced by Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Vincent Orange (D-At Large). But Bowser’s bill probably is more meaningful than the others’ because she, as chair of the government operations committee, will have the lead role in shaping the final bill that goes to a vote by the full council.
Bowser’s bill does several things dealing with fundraising issues. First, it places new curbs on transition and inauguration committees, setting forth contribution limits and disclosure requirements for the first time. Previously, officials were left to self-report those finances, with mixed results. Bowser also contemplates public financing for transitions for the mayor and council chairman, which was the case in 2006 and before, when city finances were in better shape. Last year, both Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Brown opted out of the public money, citing a tight budget.
The bill also puts new limits on constituent service funds, which have come under fire of late — halving their size to $40,000 in spending per year and limiting expenditures to things that “accrue to the primary benefit of residents.” That means no paying for parking tickets, advertisements, sponsorships and “mass information dissemination” less than 90 days prior to an election.
Lastly, the bill establishes a framework for legal defense funds for the first time, allowing publicly reported contributions of as much as $5,000 per donor to “defray the professional fees and costs for an official’s legal defense to one or more civil, criminal or administrative proceedings.”
Also of note: Brown introduced a bill that would add the unemployed to a list of groups protected against discrimination by the D.C. Human Rights Act. Currently, the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, familial status, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, disability, source of income and place of residence or business. The bill would add “status as unemployed” to that list.
The measure would, among other things, make it unlawful to “[f]ail or refuse to consider for employment, or fail or refuse to hire, an individual as an employee, because of the individual’s status as unemployed.”
The bill was referred to the Committee on Aging and Human Rights, chaired by Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), which has jurisdiction over the Human Rights Act. Expect to hear many objections from the business community, who will be exposed to new lawsuits by the bill.