EVEN BEFORE D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) departed on a trade mission to China, the questions had started — not about what she hoped to accomplish, but about who went along for the ride and why. Mayoral aides insisted that political contributions played no role and tried to refocus attention on the trip’s goals. But in the shadow of a controversial political action committee, they had no chance. So we are delighted to hear that her supporters have reversed course and decided to shut the committee down.
Officials associated with FreshPAC, an independent political action committee set up by Ms. Bowser’s close allies, with her support, to advance her agenda, told us Tuesday night of their plans to disband the group, with a public announcement expected in the next few days. Ben Soto, treasurer for FreshPAC who also served as treasurer for Ms. Bowser’s 2014 mayoral campaign, explained to us that while the committee was legally permitted and followed all the rules, it has become “a distraction.” Money raised will be returned.
The disclosure comes as Ms. Bowser is on a week-long trip to China. Accompanying her are two business owners who each contributed $10,000 to FreshPAC. A third businessman, The Post’s Aaron C. Davis reported, is seeking investment in China for a project that has a silent investor who made the largest contribution, $20,000, to FreshPAC. The PAC was able to raise more than $300,000 by exploiting a loophole in city campaign finance law that allows unlimited contributions during non-election years.
FreshPAC officials insisted that donors to the committee were people who supported the mayor and wanted to do their civic duty. They disputed the notion that contributors gave because they wanted something in return or that the mayor would ever even entertain such a thought.
But FreshPAC is the first such organization to be associated with a sitting mayor. Its formation came after the D.C. Council closed a loophole, or thought it did, that allowed individuals and businesses to give aggregate contributions exceeding the limits on individual giving. The council acted out of concern that big campaign contributions might influence the awarding of public contracts.
Many of those who donated to the Bowser-affiliated PAC either did business with the city or hoped to. Indeed, one donor who insisted on anonymity told us about being initially reluctant to contribute. “Seemed like a lot of money, and why are we doing it?” the donor recalled thinking, but in the end concluded, “If you want to continue to have good favor with the mayor, it is something you do.” Another businessman told us he said no because “it just seemed like a really bad idea with the potential to backfire.”
FreshPAC would have cast a cloud over everything else that the mayor does and plans to do. We hope she thanks her backers for sparing her further embarrassment by shuttering the PAC. Then she should join D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine in resurrecting legislation proposed by then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) that would bar political contributions from anyone doing or seeking to do business with D.C. government.