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Council Members Rake In Dollars As Wells Attempts Campaign Finance Reform

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D.C. Council member Tommy Wells is trying to pass a law limiting the number of campaign donations affiliated companies can make.
Sabri Ben-Achour
D.C. Council member Tommy Wells is trying to pass a law limiting the number of campaign donations affiliated companies can make.

As the D.C. Council considers a proposal from Council member Tommy Wells to limit corporations and their owners from making multiple campaign donations, campaign finance records show council members continue to rake in cash through the practice.

Corporations are allowed to donate directly to campaigns in D.C. and a loophole in the campaign finance law allows some to give a lot more than others.

Council member Tommy Wells explains.

"So when a developer is developing other properties, he will want to set up separate corporations to do this so they limit their liability," says Wells.

But when campaign season rolls around, there's an unintended consequence of creating these limited liability corporations (LLCs), associations, or other companies.

"So one person could actually have 7,8,9, or ten companies and each company can give the max contribution to a mayor or council candidate," says Wells.

Or even 12. That's how many campaign donors list the exact same address -- 7811 Montrose Road, Suite 500, in Potomac, Md. -- in the latest filing for Council member Jack Evans [PDF].

All of these were maximum donations of $500 and not a single one had the name of an actual person attached.

State tax records show they all appear to be connected to a Maryland real estate company called Axent Realty Group.

And there are many other examples of this type of "bundling" in the campaign finance reports that several council members filed last month.

Paul Ryan at the Campaign Legal Center says over time, this practice takes its toll.

"The long-term effects on politics of having a small group of special interests fund the majority of the system is that special interests get the public policy they want," says Ryan. "They get the variances to zoning laws, they get everything they want."

As the law is written right now, developers have the ability to give more money to campaigns than anyone else. At the same time, it's very hard to track the donors because of the lack of disclosure.

Developers point out that these LLCs often have different investors and as such should be treated as individual, separate entities.

Wells says the key to fixing the loophole may be the developers themselves.

"Who's to say the developers really want to be giving this much money?" says Wells. "It certainly gives them a way out from having that expectation."

Excerpt of D.C. Council member Jack Evans' July 31 campaign finance filing
NameAddressDonation
River Road7811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
12100 Nebel LP7811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
Nebel Center LP7811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
5161 River LP7811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
5501 Connecticut Ave., Associates7811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
Pennsylvania Avenue Associates7811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
Vermont Associates7811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
Greenhoot, Inc7811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
Willco Management7811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
C Square 3942 Associates7811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
DPG 20027811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
DPG Holding7811 Montrose Rd., Ste.500 Potomac, MD$500
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