The D.C. Council has given a preliminary approval to a sweeping campaign finance reform bill by voting in favour of the legislation on Tuesday.
Called “Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2017”, the bill would prohibit D.C. businesses from financing to city campaigns if the combined contracts they hold with the D.C. government totals $250,000 or more.
In the new legislation, the contractors would also be prevented from contributing to any campaigns run by D.C. council members.
Ward 6 Democrat and Council member Charles Allen, who’s the sponsor of the bill, said that restricting campaign contributions is meant to control corruptible influences in the government.
The bill was passed by the council on a 11-0 first vote. Democratic member from Ward 4, Brandon Todd, and Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5) stayed away from Tuesday’s vote to mark their opposition to the bill.
“I’m concerned that we’re embarking on a policy that will selectively disenfranchise some D.C. residents in order to fight a feeling of impropriety, not a reality,” said Todd.
The fact that some lawmakers won their elections “despite being out-raised by incumbents proves that voters can see through the pay-to-play culture,” said McDuffie.
The bill builds on the Fair Elections Act of 2017, which was introduced and passed by the council in February.
“Taken together, these laws would be a significant overhaul of how candidates run for office and give District residents a far more powerful voice in selecting their leaders and holding them accountable,” Allen said in a statement.
Ward 8 Democrat and Council member Trayon White said he didn’t agree with portions of the bill but supported it given he had earlier defeated the then-incumbent LaRuby May who in 2016 had outraised his campaign 8-to-1.
“The constant thing I keep hearing was that, ‘I don’t trust politicians. I don’t trust what’s going on D.C. It was an issue for me,” said White.
The new bill will also separate the Campaign Finance Board of the city from D.C. Board of Elections, establishing it as an independent office that will enforce restrictions for contributions to new campaigns.
Before becoming a law, the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2017 must clear another vote in the council. Prior to that vote, the legislation is likely to go through some revisions. The mayor then has to sign the bill and it needs to be approved by Congress in order to become a law.