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D.C. Attorney General Says He Supports Anti-Pay-To-Play Legislation

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At the Wilson Building, there is anything but consensus on bills restricting pay-to-play.
Jared Angle/WAMU
At the Wilson Building, there is anything but consensus on bills restricting pay-to-play.

D.C.'s attorney general says he supports proposed legislation aimed at removing the appearance of "pay-to-play" in city contracting.

One of the bills proposed would eliminate the council's role reviewing contracts worth more than $1 million. Supporters say the contracting process has become too politicized and that council members are not experts in procurement. Another bill would ban people who contribute to local elected officials from getting city contracts for one year after the election for which the contribution was made.

D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan told the council at a hearing Tuesday that while both bills need to be tweaked — Nathan thinks penalties should be included for example — he generally supports both measures.

"Individuals and companies should not be able to enhance their chances of receiving a contract or other benefits from the government by donating to those in a position to award or reject it," Nathan said. "And the District's system of public contracting should not be dogged by perceptions of favoritism, undue influence, or even corruption."

Nathan also says that in the aftermath of a recent Supreme Court decision striking down limits on aggregate campaign contributions — that is the total amount a person can give to multiple candidates—the D.C. Council should amend its local laws to comply, but he says the Supreme Court decision shouldn't have any effect on the pay-to-play legislation being proposed.

But not all council members are on board. Chairman Phil Mendelson believes the council review of $1 million plus contracts has helped increase oversight and transparency. And while Mendelson is in favor of the other bill, which would restrict city contracts to political donors, council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) definitely is not.

"I think that bill pay-to-play is unconstitutional," Barry said. "I think you are limiting the rights of business people to give to campaigns."

Barry, who was censured last year for taking cash payments from city contractors, says if his colleagues pass the bill, he will go to court and sue the District government to repeal it.

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