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Gray's campaign finance reform to target lobbyists, corporations

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Photo - D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (Examiner file photo)
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

The District's top lawyer on Monday outlined sweeping campaign finance reform that the administration plans to propose in July, even as Mayor Vincent Gray's self-imposed deadline to submit the reform expired more than a month ago.

The reform includes a ban on corporations and lobbyists bundling campaign contributions, bans money orders larger than the cash contribution limit of $25, and requires increased disclosure for corporations and lobbyists. Attorney General Irvin Nathan previewed the legislation, which he says Gray hopes to submit by mid-July, in testimony before a D.C. Council committee hearing on other campaign finance bills.

Nathan said he was tasked several months ago by Gray to review laws in other states to develop a comprehensive bill for the District.

"The review attempted to balance the need of candidates to raise the funds necessary to get their messages out and fully inform the electorate with the need to insure the same electorate that the process is fair and open and that the resulting government is free from any taint of even the appearance of corruption," Nathan said.

He added that the administration's draft legislation incorporates "some elements" of the three bills already before the Council Committee on Government Operations, but it also goes "well beyond" those proposals.

"We urge the council to await our proposal, rather than enacting piecemeal measures," Nathan said.

However, Nathan's pitch comes nearly six weeks after Gray's May 15 deadline he set for himself to introduce such a proposal. And if the administration sticks to it's new deadline of mid-July, the package will arrive to the council right as lawmakers break for summer recess.

When asked about the delay and why Gray set a deadline for himself, mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said, "Sometimes when you start looking at an issue," it raises additional questions.

"Our primary concern was, and continues to be, the quality of the legislative package, not speed," he said.

In addition to limiting lobbyists and corporations, the proposal will target "pay-to-play" contributions by barring donations from contractors who have, or are bidding on, significant contracts with the District. It will also require corporations to disclose who their primary shareholder is so that person cannot circumvent contribution limits by giving under the auspices of multiple corporations.

Campaign committees would also be required to report contributions and expenditures every 24 hours in the 30 days leading up to an election, and the Office of Campaign Finance should immediately post those figures online. The office would also get more funding.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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