THE D.C. Council, stung by scandals, made an effort in recent years to clean up how political campaigns and local government are conducted. Noteworthy changes included the creation of an independent ethics board and the elimination of loopholes in campaign finance laws that made a sham of contribution limits. The council refused, though, to enact meaningful reform addressing the tie-in between political contributions and government contracts. That was to its discredit. Now that there’s a new push to implement this critical reform, the council needs to show it is serious about addressing the District’s culture of pay-to-play.
Building on past efforts, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) has submitted to the council comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation. Included in the proposal are new restrictions on political action committees that would address the issues raised by the short-lived PAC associated with Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). The loophole allowing unlimited donations to a political action committee outside of election years would, for example, be closed.
Most important is a provision that would bar campaign contributions from those seeking or conducting significant business with the District. Anyone donating to an elected official with influence over government contracts or grants would be ineligible to do high-value business with the District for two years. Such restrictions are seen as best practices in good government. The federal government, the Securities and Exchange Commission, more than a dozen states and many communities have some form of restrictions on campaign contributions from government contractors.
Prospects for the proposal are unclear. A similar plan advanced by then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) languished and died as council members fretted about the hardship it might cause them in financing their own campaigns. The response to the new legislation from administration officials — who noted the irony of Mr. Racine seeking to impose limits even as he undertakes vigorous fundraising to retire his election debt — has been disappointing. That Mr. Racine seems to be operating by the existing rules is yet another reason the rules need to be stiffened. We urge the mayor and council to give fair consideration to the proposal.