Campaign finance reforms stall in D.C.

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Despite a year of headlines focused on corruption in District government, the D.C. Council will not finish work on a proposal to overhaul the city's campaign finance system before adjourning for 2012.SClBCouncil Chairman Phil Mendelson said that because legislative rules require proposals to pass two full council votes, there is not enough time for lawmakers to approve a campaign finance measure before their final meeting on Dec. 18.

But Mendelson said he wanted lawmakers to resume their evaluation of possible changes soon after returning in January.

"I do believe that we can tighten up our campaign finance laws," Mendelson said.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, who chairs the council committee that was considering reform legislation, did not respond to a request for comment.

The legislative branch had an array of potential remedies before it, some of which have been pending since June 2011, including bans on corporate contributions and enhanced disclosure requirements.

But the proposal that seized most of the spotlight came from Mayor Vincent Gray, whose own campaign is the subject of a federal probe that has resulted in guilty pleas from three people.

Gray first indicated in April that he would present a reform proposal, but he didn't offer a detailed plan until August. Gray's proposal ultimately included imposing limits on donations from city contractors and restrictions on money order contributions.

"We obviously advanced our proposals. We thought this should have been at the top of the agenda, given all of the concerns that have been expressed about it," Gray said. "It's just hard to understand why the council didn't move."

And Gray said he thought District residents would be frustrated by the council's punt.

"It's an issue that's important to many people in the District of Columbia," Gray said. "I think they've got to be absolutely puzzled and miffed by this."

Lawmakers were widely expected to consider reforms to close out a year that, along with the investigation of Gray's campaign, has also seen two legislators resign and plead guilty to federal and local charges, including former Council Chairman Kwame Brown.

Brown pleaded guilty in June to a bank fraud charge, as well as a misdemeanor campaign finance violation. He was sentenced last month to a single day in custody and six months of house arrest.

The federal investigation that led to Brown's downfall began after local regulators referred an audit of Brown's 2008 campaign to prosecutors.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

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