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D.C. Council Digs Into Mayor's Campaign Finance Reform Bill

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D.C. Council members are still reviewing a campaign finance reform proposal from Mayor Vince Gray.
Mallory Noe-Payne
D.C. Council members are still reviewing a campaign finance reform proposal from Mayor Vince Gray.

With several scandals and federal investigations involving local D.C. political campaigns, city lawmakers are pressing to reform the city's campaign finance laws. But there is little agreement on how to accomplish that.

D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan spent the better part of Tuesday afternoon trying to explain the details of Mayor Gray's campaign finance reform legislation to a handful of council members. 

Under the measure, money-order donations would be capped at $25, corporate contributions would be subject to more disclosure so that businesses cannot use subsidiary companies make multiple donations; and those seeking large contracts with the city would be banned from making contributions. 

As Nathan explained to the council members, one of the major problems is the appearance of a pay-to-play culture in D.C. The bill would take steps to rebuild the public's confidence in city, according to Nathan.

But council members at Tuesday's work session did not seem too excited for the measure,  noting that it would very complicated to implement and burdensome for campaigns and contributors. 

"Show me a complicated law and I'll show you one that no one is enforcing and nobody's following," said Ward 4 Council member Muriel Bowser.

Nathan disagreed.

"I think they have exaggerated the burden that would be on candidates, the principal burdens would be on contributors to know the law and to comply with the law and on law enforcement agencies to enforce the laws as they apply to contributors," he said.

The council may take up the legislation in December, or try again next year when the new council session begins. 

And another question looms — will Super-PACs and independent expenditures, which dominated the presidential campaign and many state races, one day take hold in D.C.? Nathan's bill would make those groups register with the city as political action committees. But the same disclosure requirements and contribution limits would not apply — adding another layer of uncertainty for lawmakers and watchdogs to consider. 

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