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The Council’s Government Operations Committee Advances Critical Campaign Finance Bill

For Immediate Release

October 22, 2013

Washington, DC – Today, Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D – Ward 5), Chair of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Government Operations, advanced key campaign finance reform legislation one step closer to a vote before the full Council. The “Campaign Finance Reform and Transparency Amendment Act of 2013” was approved by the Committee in a 5-0 vote.

Among the significant reforms in the legislation is the closure of the “LLC loophole,” which historically has enabled limited liability companies to make campaign contributions well in excess of individual limits. McDuffie’s bill subjects all related businesses, including corporate subsidiaries and LLCs with shared owners, to a single contribution. “The Committee heard loud and clear from residents and advocates that business owners must be on equal footing with everyone else. To allow a business owner to multiply his or her contribution by the number of businesses he or she owns flies in the face of fairness. This legislation ends that inequity.”

McDuffie’s original reform proposal also included a repeal of the Council’s contract approval authority, a power anomalous to the District’s legislature that has, along with the LLC loophole, contributed to a pay-to-play culture in District elections. The Council is the only major legislative body in the United States that approves contracts. McDuffie cautioned, “The Council’s role in approving contracts perpetuates the perception that politicians and contractors are trading contracts for contributions. It’s this perception of pay-to-play that harms voter confidence. Closing the LLC loophole and ending the Council’s role in approving contracts are integral to restoring the public’s faith in the District’s electoral process.”

However, Chairman Mendelson removed the controversial contract approval provision on procedural grounds, instead promising that the Committee of the Whole will hold a hearing on the matter. “The Council needs to take a hard look at this practice,” stated McDuffie. “Changes of this magnitude may be uncomfortable, but campaign finance reform of this nature is long overdue.”

The legislation also addresses a host of other problems that have plagued District elections over the past several cycles by capping money order donations at $100, mandating training for campaign treasurers, and granting the Attorney General jurisdiction to prosecute misdemeanor campaign finance violations.

Several noteworthy transparency measures are also central to the bill, including a requirement that campaigns report fundraising data online. In turn, the Office of Campaign Finance must publish fundraising data on its website, in fully sortable and downloadable form, within 24 hours of receipt. “The public and media have an important role in exposing questionable campaign practices, so it’s critical that we have the data to follow the money. I consulted with open government watchdogs to construct a plan that incorporates the best practices in data transparency.” McDuffie’s bill also requires lobbyist disclosure of bundled contributions.

The bill now advances to the full Council for consideration in November.

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