Lawmaker: No quick fix for D.C. campaign finance reform

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

A D.C. Council member said he doesn't expect his peers will finish their review this year of a proposal that could lead to public financing of local political campaigns, even as other legislators press ahead with their own plans to overhaul the city's campaign finance system.

"I don't think the legislative clock will have anything happen before the end of the year," at-large Councilman Michael Brown told The Washington Examiner. "I think it's going to be too difficult with all of the proposals."

Brown last week introduced a plan that would explore creating a public financing system similar to the one used in New York City.

That model generally chips in $6 for every dollar in private donations, though certain limits apply. To be eligible for the public dollars, candidates must reach defined levels of support.

Brown said the complexity of New York's system -- and the expertise required to refine and implement it in D.C. -- would prompt delays in giving his proposal "a full vetting."

"If mine is going to be included, I think it's going to take several steps," Brown said. "It should be thoughtful. I don't think it should be rushed."

Campaign finance reform has quickly emerged as one of the defining issues of the fall calendar for the D.C. Council. So far, amid a backdrop of a massive campaign finance investigation in the District, city officials have released four proposals linked to the role of money in D.C. politics.

The plans, including Brown's, vary widely in scope.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans' offering, which would end a requirement that the council review major contracts, wouldn't force structural changes in the District's campaign finance system. Evans, though, has argued it would eliminate "the perception that people contribute to campaigns so they can get special deals on contracts."

Lawmakers will weigh Evans' proposal alongside other plans that are more clearly focused on campaign finance.

Earlier this year, Mayor Vincent Gray said he'd press for tougher disclosure requirements while barring donations from existing or prospective city contractors to politicians who might be able to influence contract awards.

Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, one of the Wilson Building's most ardent proponents of government reform, backed Gray's measure but said he'd expand it to include a ban on outside employment for city lawmakers and an outright prohibition on corporate contributions.

"If people want the city to begin to trust the government again, we have to show that we're willing to be transparent and that we'll give up all these corporate bundling dollars," Wells said.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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