Two things in the bill jump out: First, new limitations on constituent service funds. The bill would halve the current yearly limit on constituent service fundraising, from $80,000 to $40,000 (which was the limit until 2009). More importantly, for the first time, the law would state explicitly what types of expenditures are and are not permitted.
Previously, the only real restriction on this non-campaign fundraising was that “no campaign activities shall be conducted nor shall campaign literature or paraphernalia be distributed” with the money. Under Bowser’s bill, expenditures must provide “emergency, informational, charitable, scientific, educational, medical, or recreational services to the residents of the District of Columbia” and must “accrue to the primary benefit of residents of the District of Columbia.”
Beyond that, there’s a list.
Here’s what’s in: Funeral arrangements, emergency housing, past-due utility payments, food and refreshments “on infrequent occasions,” community events not sponsored by the D.C. government, and “[p]rinted, electronic and telephonic information dissemination of community-wide, government based activities” — except for 90 days prior to an election.
Here’s what’s out: “Promoting or opposing, as a primary purpose, a political party, committee, candidate, or issue,” fines levied by the District, advertisements, political sponsorships, any cash disbursement, and “year-long or season admissions to theatrical, sporting, or cultural events.” (Yes, that would mean no more Nats tickets.)
The other big thing: Public officials — meaning elected officials and a fairly vast swath of the executive branch — would have to file much tougher yearly financial disclosures under the Bowser bill.
They would have to disclose all sources of outside income for the first time, not just those that do business with the city, as well as any clients that might have some connection with city business. There would be tougher disclosure rules for personal debts, real estate holdings, and more. And officials would have to certify that, among other things, they paid their taxes and reported “known illegal activity, including attempted bribes to the appropriate authorities.”
So what’s not in the bill? Well, as you might expect, term limits didn’t make the cut, nor did sweeping restrictions on contributions from lobbyists and city contractors nor the practice of “bundling” — the practice of giving maximum contributions from discrete but related companies.
Expect to hear chatter about how more could be done. But it’s fair to say quite a bit is being done in Bowser’s bill as it stands.