WASHINGTON, D. C. – Today, Attorney General Karl A. Racine testified before the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary regarding the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) “Campaign Finance Transparency and Accountability Amendment Act of 2017.” OAG’s legislation moves to strengthen three major pillars of the District’s campaign-finance law: 1) ending pay-to-play politics; 2) creating a “bright line” between candidates and Political Action Committees (PACs); and 3) making political donations transparent.
“There is an overwhelming perception among District residents that pay-to-play politics means big money can exert an undue influence on government decision-makers – to the detriment of residents’ needs and concerns,” said Attorney General Racine. “This is a structural concern that requires serious study and thoughtful action by our policymakers. The first step is immediate action on our bill before the Council today.”
The legislation contains provisions that would:
- End the reality and perception of “pay-to-play” politics in the District by severing any connection between political contributions and significant business with the District;
- Create a “bright line” between candidates and Political Action Committees (PACs) to ensure that independent expenditures truly are independent of candidates and campaigns; and
- Strengthen disclosure requirements to increase transparency in the donations process.
The legislation is crafted to accomplish these goals while staying within Supreme Court precedent on campaign finance.
Ending Pay-to-Play Politics
The bill focuses on what it calls “doing business with the District” – large contracts, grants, tax abatements, and agreements to acquire, sell, or lease land or a building. These are the type of business dealings that raise the strongest concerns about the appearance of pay-to-play corruption.
Building off of previous legislation proposed by Chairman Mendelson and prior proposals from OAG, this bill would render anyone ineligible to engage in these types of high-value business dealings with the District if they:
- Contributed to a candidate or elected official who could influence or award any of these types of business;
- Contributed to any political committee or PAC affiliated with that candidate or official; or
- Contributed to constituent services funds or to certain individuals or organizations closely tied to such a candidate or official.
This ineligibility would last for two years following the election for which the contribution was made. Anyone seeking to “do business with the District” would need to certify that he or she has been in compliance with District pay-to-play laws, and the District would be forbidden from “doing business with” anyone who was ineligible to “do business with the District.”
Creating a ‘Bright Line’ Between Candidates and PACs and Increasing Transparency
OAG’s legislation also defines the term “coordination” broadly to ensure candidates are truly separated from PACs. This will require candidates, elected officials, affiliated committees, and their agents to wall themselves off from PACs and independent expenditure committees. It does so by borrowing both from previous legislation offered by At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman and from federal regulations. Candidates, officials, committees, and agents would not be allowed to encourage anyone to donate to an independent expenditure committee or a PAC. PACs and independent expenditure committees would have to certify that, to the best of their knowledge and after due diligence, they have not received any donations that were coordinated with any candidate, official, political committee, or political party. Moreover, any expenditure coordinated with a candidate, campaign, or agent would be treated as a contribution to that candidate or campaign. And for spending that remains truly independent, the bill requires more stringent disclosure to ensure the public knows the money’s source.
Attorney General Racine concluded his testimony by thanking D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Charles Allen for the hearing and advocates for pushing the principles behind the legislation. “I want to express my profound appreciation to the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety for holding this important hearing so early in Council Period 22,” Attorney General Racine said. “I also want to thank the good-government advocates and the District residents that have taken time to attend this vitally important hearing. It will take all of us working together to fundamentally improve our election and campaign finance system.”
Attorney General Racine’s final testimony as prepared for delivery is attached. For more information about the Campaign Finance Transparency and Accountability Amendment Act of 2017, including a copy of the legislation, visit OAG’s website here.