Activists: D.C. elections board miscounted petitions

Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Supporters of a proposal to curb the influence of corporate money in District politics said Monday that the city's elections board erred when it ruled that the activists pushing the idea didn't collect enough valid signatures to secure a place on the November ballot.

"The board miscounted," the D.C. Public Trust said in an appeal that challenged the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics' Aug. 8 decision. "To a reasonable certainty, the board committed an egregious error."

The activists said their own review showed they had collected 1,349 more signatures than the 23,299 required by city law and about 3,100 more than the board said the group had secured.

D.C. law also required the organizers to attract the support of 5 percent of voters in five of the city's eight wards. Although the Board of Elections said the activists had only collected enough signatures in four wards, supporters said they surpassed the threshold in six wards.

Bryan Weaver, who helped spearhead the ballot initiative and is listed as a plaintiff in the appeal, sharply criticized the city's elections board.

"The work of the Board of Elections gets to the heart of our democracy," Weaver said. "What we found in our review raises concerns about the integrity of the democratic process in local D.C. elections."

A spokesman for the board did not respond to a request for comment.

The appeal could ultimately prompt a resurgence for Initiative 70, which would bar donations by corporations to campaigns, transition and inauguration committees, legal defense groups and programs that handle constituent requests, and energize what was shaping up to be a quiet local campaign cycle.

Organizers first proposed the ban in January, and the campaign moved forward as federal authorities staged a series of investigations into corruption throughout the District's political scene.

One of those probes involves Jeffrey Thompson, who, over a period of years, became a top donor to political campaigns throughout the city. Using a network of friends, associates, family members and companies, Thompson played a role in hundreds of thousands of dollars in local campaign contributions.

The tactic -- known as "bundling" in political circles -- is legal, but it would be curtailed under Initiative 70.

Thompson is under scrutiny for whether he played a role in an illegal shadow campaign that helped elect Mayor Vincent Gray in 2010. Like Gray, Thompson has not been charged with any crime, but a close associate pleaded guilty in July to charges linked to the scheme. Thompson's attorney has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

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