Loose Lips

Vince Gray Wants to Change D.C. Campaign Finance Laws

Mayor Vince Gray is seeking changes to the District's campaign finance law that would, if enacted, dramatically change the way D.C. pols raise money for their campaigns.

At a D.C. Council committee hearing going on right now, Attorney General Irv Nathan outlined new proposals from the mayor that Nathan said will be part of legislation introduced next month.

The biggest shocker: Gray's looking to reduce how much money city contractors, would-be city contractors, and large grant seekers can give to local pols who "could be involved in the local contract approval process." Nathan didn't offer specifics in his opening testimony, but said that individuals linked to corporations doing business with the city would have their giving totals set "far below the current maximums." Since the entire council has to approve city contracts over $1 million, and since businesses that give to councilmembers tend to have or want city contracts,  that proposal could put a serious dent in how some councilmembers raise dough.

"Serious concerns have been raised about some past government contracting practices in the District, and we believe it is imperative to protect the contracting process from undue political influence or even the appearance of such influence," Nathan said in a statement.

Nathan says Gray also wants to require corporations that donate to local campaigns to disclose "all subsidiaries, affiliates, and controlling shareholders," which Nathan said would "identify the real donors, who have until now concealed their identities behind a corporate veil." It's not uncommon for businesses to use subsidiary LLCs to make multiple donations to a politician, which in local campaign speak is called "bundling." Nathan says this new proposed disclosure requirement is better than an outright ban on corporate donations, an idea which a group of motivated good-government advocates are trying to put before the voters in a ballot initative. Nathan says such a ban would be overly broad and an unsophisticated "meat axe" approach.*

Also in Gray's plan: banning lobbyists from collecting checks from multiple parties and handing them over to a pol. This practice, which is what federal political operatives call bundling, can create "at least the appearance that access is being exchanged for contributions," says Nathan. Both kinds of bundling would be affected the law.

Gray also wants to treat money orders donations like cash donations, limiting them to $25.

So, how serious is the mayor, who is under federal investigation for how his campaign raised and spent money, about these far-reaching proposals? He did roll out these proposals while visiting China, so make of that what you will. He's also appears to have sprung this on the council with little forewarning or advanced lobbying. Ward 6 Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells, the most outspoken supporter of dramatic campaign finance overhauls, says he would be "stunned" if the council approved Gray's plan as is: It would be "gutted" first.

*Correction: An earlier version of this post said Nathan suggested a ban on corporate giving would be unconstitutional. He did not suggest that.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • More Haters

    They should put a cap on how much you raise and set up an emergency fund. If we preach financial responsibility then show it to me.

    Of course the downside is for those who try to earn some extra cash working during campaign season, they will loose out smh....

  • Sally

    Announce the big initiative a few days before Council goes on recess. Then expect Council to take any sort of action in the few months remaining in their legislative calendar? And while there's an election?


  • hymesb

    Come on, hurry up Feds. I am sick of this guys games. He is just terrible. Wants to act like he is reforming a system that he just abused. Just like when he "called" for an investigation of his own campaign. Again, terrible!

  • Truth hurts

    Bruce Bereano. Jeff Thompson. Vince Gray.

    One city and his fake messaging.

    Too little, too late.

  • Truth hurts

    Wonder whether Vince has told Irv about the criminal scheme that helped Gray become mayor. Surely Irv has learned enough to understand Gray's not going to be mayor this time next year.

    Will be fascinating to watch how Irv deals with his boss's convictions.

  • SEis4ME

    So, how serious is the mayor, who is under federal investigation for how his campaign raised and spent money, about these far-reaching proposals?

    So after all that, you go right back on the attack, questioning his "seriousness."

  • Terry Miller

    The Council schedules hearings, not the Mayor. So some are suggesting that the Mayor scheduled his trip to make sure that he would miss this one hearing?

  • Loud

    Can someone please Ban OUTSIDE EMPLOYMENT?

    These retards keep beading around the bush, the BAN will shut down Catania, Evans, Cheh, and Michael Brown.

    I guarentee if you BAN Outside Employment, they will have to choose between the council or making lots of money.

  • http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/dc-council-wrestles-with-campaign-finance-ethics-reforms/2012/06/25/gJQAsx2s2V_print.html Green Eyeshade

    According to WaPo (click my name or see link below), the Mayor and the Attorney General (AG) did not even file a written proposed bill yesterday.

    WaPo's Tim Craig wrote this last night:

    "Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said he and Gray will soon be proposing sweeping campaign finance reform legislation ...."


    "Will soon be proposing" does not equal "submitted written language to change the law. In fact, "will soon be proposing" is the exact equivalent of "trial balloon." I thin these goof-balls don't even plan to submit a formal bill of their own.

    Certainly, if other speculation in comments here turns out to be correct, the Mayor won't even be the Mayor when Council reconvenes in September. So, was this just all Kabuki theater to benefit the Mayor's reputation as he exits?

  • http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/dc-council-wrestles-with-campaign-finance-ethics-reforms/2012/06/25/gJQAsx2s2V_print.html Green Eyeshade

    make that "I THINK these goof-balls ...."

  • Ward One Resident

    Not sure if Suderman was paraphrasing Nathan when he said that Initiative 70 would be unconstitutional because that was certainly not what he said in a letter to BOEE about it when the Initiative was proposed:

    "Nathan said the ballot initiative meets constitutional muster because federal appellate courts have maintained that corporate contributions can continue to be restricted. Nathan cites the 2003 Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont case.

    “The court held that contribution limits, up to and including complete bans on direct corporate contributions, are constitutional if they are ‘closely drawn’ to match a ‘sufficiently important interest,’ ” Nathan wrote to Kenneth McGhie, general counsel for the elections board.

    Nathan added, “Following Citizens United, at least two federal appellate courts have evaluated and rejected the argument that Citizens United implicitly overruled Beaumont, and sustained bans on corporations and other business entities contributing to candidates.”"

    From Debonis in February.


  • Ward One Resident

    Sorry, that was Tim Craig who wrote that for the Post in February about Irv Nathan.