Activists seek ban on corporate donations in D.C.

Local,DC,Alan Blinder
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  • A band of D.C. activists took the first step on Tuesday toward a ballot referendum that would ban direct corporate donations to the city's political candidates.

    "We're trying to find a way to restore confidence in this government," said Bryan Weaver, one of the initiative's organizers. "We need to actually take control of the Wilson Building back."

    The proposal Weaver and others want to take to voters is an outright ban on corporate donations that would more closely align the District with federal campaign finance rules and those in nearly two dozen states. The new measure would bar companies from contributing not only to political campaigns, but also to transition and inauguration committees, legal defense groups, and programs that handle constituent requests.SClBSylvia Brown, chairwoman of the D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust, the group spearheading the ballot initiative, said the effort is an expansion of the ethics bill the D.C. Council approved last year.

    "It's adding to what the council did," Brown said. "The D.C. Council certainly worked on a D.C. ethics measure. It didn't go far enough."

    Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, whose colleagues stripped his proposals to restrict donations by District contractors out of the final ethics package, was the only D.C. Council member to attend Tuesday's rollout.

    "I'm asking for voters to take control of our local elections and to level the playing field," Wells said. "We've had our say on D.C. ethics reforms. It's time the voters have their say."SClBThe proposal, supporters acknowledged, wouldn't impose any new restrictions on spending by corporate-affiliated political action committees or labor unions, which are also prolific political contributors.SClB"It hasn't been series of labor unions that have been banding together to sort of bypass campaign finance to give directly to campaigns," said Weaver, a former union official. "It's been corporations doing that."

    To get the proposal before voters in November, organizers will have to collect signatures from 5 percent of D.C's registered voters within 180 days of the elections board approving the petition request. With about 454,000 voters registered in the District, that means close to 23,000 residents will have to sign on to the effort before organizers secure a citywide vote.SClBWeaver acknowledged that gathering the signatures may be more difficult than winning a general election vote.

    "I actually think our bigger campaign will be to get it on the ballot," Weaver said. "If we can get it on the ballot, we've got a great chance."

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