IT WAS probably to be expected that someone would figure out how to do an end run around the new limits the D.C. Council placed on political campaign donations. What was not to be expected is that it would be the official who was elected on the promise of a fresh start for the scandal-weary city. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) doesn’t seem to realize that by sanctioning a political action committee with the ability to muscle unlimited contributions from people who do business with the District, she undermines that very promise.
FreshPAC is the name cynically given to the political action committee formed, treasurer Ben Soto told WAMU’s Patrick Madden, as a way to help advance the mayor’s agenda. Staffed with people who were involved in her campaign (Mr. Soto was treasurer for Ms. Bowser’s 2014 mayoral campaign), the committee has so far this year raised $304,206.20, according to its campaign finance report filed Oct. 10 .
Political action committees are allowed under city finance laws, but there has never before been one associated with the sitting mayor. Ms. Bowser gets some credit for at least being aboveboard about that association, and Mr. Soto has stressed there will be strict adherence to rules requiring the committee to make independent decisions about how money is raised and spent. Best guess is that it will go to support candidates in next year’s D.C. Council races who are seen as being helpful to the mayor.
Because this is not an election year, there is no limit on contributions; FreshPAC lists numerous donations of $10,000 and one for $20,000. Most of the big-money donors are those with ties to construction, contracting, health organizations or real estate development companies. That helps perpetuate the pay-to-play image of the District. Or are we to think it’s just coincidence that two days after the administration announced plans to contract with private ambulances to handle low-priority calls, the president of private ambulance services in Georgia made a $10,000 donation to FreshPAC?
It was precisely because of concerns about the role of campaign contributions in contracting that the D.C. Council voted to close the loophole that allowed individuals and the businesses they controlled to give aggregate contributions exceeding the limits on individual giving ($2,000 for mayor, $1,000 for an at-large member and $500 for a ward council member). So it’s troubling that in the same year that reform took effect, the mayor gives her blessing to a practice that invites more money into politics. FreshPAC should be disbanded and the D.C. Council should review the rules that gave rise to it.