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D.C. corporate donations ban gaining traction

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

After months of federal investigations into corruption in District politics, the city's residents are poised to decide whether to ban corporate contributions to the city's political campaigns.

A group of activists Monday submitted more than 30,000 signatures to the D.C. Board of Elections supporting a ballot initiative that would bar donations by corporations to campaigns, transition and inauguration committees, legal defense groups and programs that handle constituent requests.

The group needed to garner the support of only about 23,000 people -- 5 percent of the District's registered voters -- to earn a place on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

"The people of the District of Columbia are becoming increasingly more dissatisfied and disillusioned with the status of local politics," said Phil Pannell, the president of the Congress Heights Community Association. "People want to see an end to public elected officials playing tricks and trash with governmental and political cash. Initiative 70 addresses that."

Elections regulators must certify that the signatures meet a series of requirements, but petition organizers said they expect the initiative will appear on the ballot and succeed in November.

"I'd say that 75 percent of the people that we asked signed it," said Bryan Weaver, one of the movement's most prolific advocates and a former advisory neighborhood commissioner. "I'm pretty confident."

The initiative's proponents submitted the signatures not far from the office of U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr., who is overseeing the high-profile probes into political corruption.

The campaigns of Mayor Vincent Gray and ousted D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown have drawn particular scrutiny. Both probes have already netted convictions of three men, including Brown.

Investigators are also looking into the activities of Jeffrey Thompson, a prolific campaign contributor and a major city contractor whose home and offices were raided in March. Thompson and a network of family members, friends, business associates and companies combined to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to District politicians through the years. Jeanne Clarke Harris, a one-time consultant with the Gray campaign and an associate of Thompson's, was charged Monday with fraud and conspiracy in a federal criminal information.

Gray and 10 sitting city lawmakers are among those who benefited from Thompson's largess.

The Gray administration last month rolled out its own campaign finance reform proposal, but the mayor's plan on campaign contributions was not as sweeping as the ballot initiative and focused on limiting donations from aspiring or existing city contractors. A Gray spokesman declined to comment. D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan, who spearheaded the development of Gray's proposal, has described the ballot initiative as a "meat-ax way" to approach reform.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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