D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is proposing a broad package of campaign finance reforms, including a ban on contributions by government contractors or those seeking large contracts.
The legislation would address some of the questions that have dogged Gray's own 2010 campaign, which is under investigation by federal authorities for possible financial improprieties. It would also aim to curb other practices that have fueled a perception of widespread corruption in District government.
D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan offered a preview of the legislation in testimony before the D.C. Council Monday. He said a ban on contributions by major contractors or those bidding on contracts would help end talk of a “pay to play” culture in the city.
“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.
Nathan did not specify a dollar amount at which the restrictions on contractors would kick in, but contracts worth more than $1 million require council approval.
The District has been clouded by scandal since shortly after Gray, a Democrat, took office in January 2011. Two campaign aides to Gray pleaded guilty last month to funneling payments to a minor mayoral candidate in 2010 and trying to cover them up. The aides admitted that they paid the candidate, Sulaimon Brown, to keep up his attacks on then-mayor Adrian Fenty and to bolster Gray's chances of being elected. Gray has denied knowledge of the payments.
Federal authorities are also investigating businessman Jeffrey Thompson and his ties to district politicians, including the mayor. A health-care firm owned by Thompson has a $322 million contract, the most lucrative in District government, to provide managed care to city residents. Several councilmembers have received subpoenas seeking details of contributions by Thompson and his associates, and people familiar with the probe believe Thompson is suspected of using straw donors to get around contribution limits.
In addition to the restrictions on donations by contractors, the legislation would require corporate donors to disclose their subsidiaries, affiliates and controlling shareholders, and the contributions would be attributed to the owners of those firms. Such requirements would curb the practice of individual donors funneling contributions through multiple corporations.
The legislation would also ban bundling of contributions by lobbyists, and money-order contributions would be limited to $25, the same as cash contributions. The Gray campaign used money orders to pay Brown, and donors linked to Thompson have given money orders to Gray and other candidates.
The administration plans to release a draft of the bill next month. Councilmember Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, commended Nathan's proposals but took a dim view of their prospects.
“I would be stunned if the city council passed what you proposed,” Wells said. “If anything was passed, it would be substantially weakened and gutted.”