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No November D.C. vote to ban corporate donations

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Voters will not have a chance this fall to weigh in on a ballot initiative that sought to curtail corporate money in District politics after the DC Board of Elections acknowledged "inconsistencies" in its review of petitions supporting the measure.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Laura Cordero on Tuesday approved a plan that will allow the D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust, which coordinated the band of activists pressing the initiative, until Oct. 2 to examine the approximately 30,000 signatures they submitted in support of the measure. The review will conclude after the ballots for the November election have been printed, but it could clear the way for the proposal to appear on a future ballot.

The elections board last month rejected thousands of signatures and ruled that the activists hadn't collected the 23,298 signatures necessary to place Initiative 70, which would ban direct corporate contributions to municipal campaigns, on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. The board said the group fell short by 1,726 signatures.

The ruling set off a flurry of litigation -- with the activists claiming elections regulators had miscounted and the board saying the D.C. Public Trust didn't understand its review procedures.

Although both sides met privately last week to discuss the board's methodology, the activists said Tuesday that completing a line-by-line review ahead of a hearing that had been planned for later this week would be impossible.

"There is not enough time to get that done in the next several days and be confident in that count," D.C. Public Trust attorney Elizabeth Getman told Cordero.

Terri Stroud, a lawyer for the elections board, acknowledged Tuesday that staff members had used a confusing methodology when reviewing petitions.

"There were inconsistencies," Stroud said. "Every person who reviewed had a different way of noting whether a petition was correct or incorrect."

The board has sought to dismiss the activists' appeal outright, but Cordero, who described the broader dispute as "mass confusion," won't rule on that motion until at least mid-October.

Bryan Weaver, who spearheaded the effort to place the initiative before voters, said Tuesday that the episode disturbed him.

"This is one of the most frustrating things I've ever gone through," Weaver said after Cordero's ruling. "There are just so many inconsistencies."

The legal drama about the fate of Initiative 70 has played out as Mayor Vincent Gray proposed an overhaul of the city's campaign finance rules.

Gray never embraced Initiative 70's broadness and instead focused on ending "pay to play" by banning campaign donations from existing or prospective city contractors. Gray also proposed enhancing disclosure requirements and limiting to $25 contributions made with money orders.

The D.C. Council will consider Gray's proposal this fall.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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