The Washington Post

Previewing the final D.C. ethics reform vote

The Council meets Tuesday to take what is expected to be a final vote on ethics reform. (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Here’s the latest developments: The bill’s introducer, Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) circulated a substitute bill today that incorporates mainly technical fixes, but also at least one substantive change.

A proposal to ease recall requirements has been scrapped; the petition signature threshold will remain at 10 percent of registered voters rather than 5 percent. An exception to the current ban on initiating recalls in the first or last years of an official’s term remains, but only if the new Board of Ethics and Government Accountability find the officials to have “violated the Code of Conduct in a manner which substantially threatens the public trust.”

Bowser is also proposing to pass an emergency version of the bill — that is, a stopgap measure that does not have to wait for congressional approval. “Approval of the emergency will ensure that the new Board of Ethics is empanelled by mid-April and may begin organizing, hiring staff, and enforcing the new law,” Bowser wrote in a memo to colleagues.

And then there are the amendments.

Vincent Orange (D-At Large) is proposing a substitute bill of his own, which will likely reject Bowser’s notion of setting up a new ethics board. Orange favors beefing up ethics enforcement, but keeping it under the current Board of Elections and Ethics. Orange is also likely to propose amendments barring D.C. Council members from holding outside jobs and allowing the Council to expel a member — similar to the ones he floated on first reading before withdrawing them.

Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) has retooled a pair of amendments that won scant support on first reading, dealing with political donations by city contractors and “bundled” donations by companies with related ownership. Wells had originally planned banning those practices outright, but he has rewritten the amendments to permit them but provide more transparency. He is hoping that will be enough to win the measures enough votes.

Candidates would have to disclose which of their donors are city contractors and they would have to disclose the majority ownership of corporate donors. Potential and current city contractors would be required to disclose their political donations to the Office of Campaign Finance.

And then there’s constituent service funds. It’s clear at the point that there is little appetite on the Council to ban the use of private donations for political utility purposes. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) has been gathering votes to strip out a Bowser-proposed restriction banning the use of CSFs for sports tickets, according to council sources.

The meeting will get underway at 10 a.m. I will try to arrive at the Wilson Building in time to tweet the traditional pre-meeting breakfast. [UPDATE, 9:45 a.m.: I forgot it’s an additional meeting, so no breakfast today.]

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.


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