D.C. mayor to begin campaign finance reform push

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray will roll out his long-awaited campaign finance reform plan Tuesday, one week before one of his convicted campaign aides is due to return to federal court.

Administration officials familiar with the package, who requested anonymity to avoid upstaging Gray's formal announcement, said the mayor's proposal would echo the ideas that D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan floated to city lawmakers in June.

At a hearing before the D.C. Council, which is considering several changes to campaign finance laws, Nathan suggested limiting contributions from people seeking to do business with the city, imposing new restrictions on money order donations and enhancing disclosure rules.

"The mayor and this administration believe legislative campaign finance reform should be a high priority to restore trust in our electoral system," Nathan said on June 25.

Gray will offer his proposals -- and first extensive remarks on campaign finance in months -- one week before Thomas Gore, the assistant treasurer of Gray's 2010 campaign, will return to court for a status hearing.

Gore pleaded guilty in May to destroying evidence and making illegal campaign contributions for his role in a scheme to pay Sulaimon Brown, a minor mayoral candidate, to remain in the Democratic primary and attack Gray's archrival, incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Although prosecutors have not accused Gray of wrongdoing, the scandal has marred his 20-month tenure as mayor. In addition to Gore, two other people linked to the Gray campaign have pleaded guilty to federal charges.

After the most recent guilty plea -- from communications consultant Jeanne Clarke Harris -- federal prosecutors disclosed that an illegal, $653,800 shadow campaign helped elect Gray. The existence of the shadow campaign prompted three D.C. lawmakers to call for Gray's resignation, demands that he has so far resisted as his approval rating has plunged to the lowest level of any D.C. mayor in decades.

Although prosecutors have not publicly said who bankrolled the shadow campaign, people familiar with the investigation and court records have indicated that Jeffrey Thompson, a prominent city contractor and major campaign contributor, was responsible. Thompson has not been charged, and his attorney has repeatedly declined to comment on the probe.

Gray will also unveil his proposal as a group of activists awaits a D.C. Superior Court ruling about whether Initiative 70, a proposal to sharply curtail the role of corporate contributions in city politics, will appear on the general election ballot in November.

Although the District's elections board said the D.C. Public Trust had not gathered enough signatures to earn the proposal a place on the ballot, the group appealed the ruling.

Although Gray never explicitly criticized the proposal in public, Nathan described Initiative 70 as a "meat-ax way" to approach campaign finance reform.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner