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D.C. Council members push boundaries for campaign cash
Maryland and Virginia towns inside the Capital Beltway are suddenly part of "DC," subsidiary companies and their owners are each donating to campaigns despite tough talk on "bundling," and a pair of D.C. Council incumbents did not disclose who employs any of their financial backers, according to the latest reports filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.
In a month marked by a detailed look at ethics and political optics among the District's elected officials, the latest round of filings is fraught with oddities and irregularities of varying magnitude. The filings also show that campaign financing remains a high-stakes business for some incumbents and a breeze for others, whether or not their seat is threatened in party primaries less than four months away.
Longtime council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, has outpaced all candidates by raising $304,817 to date for his race, although no one is challenging him.
D.C. political legend Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, did not file by the Monday deadline. A report filed Tuesday lists only a $4,000 loan from himself to his campaign as he seeks to protect his seat against multiple challengers.
"Starting the first of the year, I'm going to run an intense, hard-charging campaign to take my issues to the people of Ward 8," he said when asked about the state of his campaign.
Among his opponents, Jauhar Abraham raised $100 in money he gave himself, Jacque Patterson's report was chock-full of zeroes, and Sandra Seegars said her campaign erred in a filing that suggested she had $917,400 on hand.
Council member Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, who rejoined the council through a special election in April, raised the most money — $105,220 — during the reporting period of Oct. 11 to Dec. 10. A total of $9,000 came from nine petroleum suppliers at the same Springfield address, including those owned by D.C. gas magnate Joe Mamo, in a practice called "bundling" that is allowed under D.C. law.
Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, is trying to outlaw donations that allow a principal source to donate multiple times through limited-liability companies. Mr. Orange did not return a request for comment relayed through his chief of staff on Tuesday.
Council member Muriel Bowser, the incumbent in Ward 4 who recently authored sweeping ethics legislation, has $202,902 on hand after raising $78,572 and spending $16,186 during the reporting period in her bid for re-election against several challengers.
Council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, raised $33,320 and spent $26,762 in the reporting period and has $34,813 on hand for her bid to stave off a slate of ambitious opponents in both the April primary and the general election against non-Democratic opponents such as "Civil Rights Republican" Ronald Moten. Ms. Alexander, chairwoman of the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, which handles private health insurance matters, received donations from insurers such as Nationwide, Allstate, Geico and Aetna.
Neither Ms. Bowser nor Ms. Alexander, with 164 and 87 donors respectively in their initial reports, listed any employer information for the people who gave money to their campaigns.
"We had a small problem, but we'll fix it," Ms. Bowser said. An amended filing posted by OCF on Tuesday expanded the number of her donors to 276, with most of the new names accompanied by their respective employers.
Ms. Alexander could not be reached for comment, but she is hardly alone in the no-employer-listed trend; numerous candidates filed a patchwork of employer information or conceded the information was "requested" but not received.
Wesley Williams, spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance, said candidates are required to make a "good faith effort" to acquire a donor's employment information. The digital age, in which an Internet search reveals so much about a person, gives some donors pause when they give up their addresses and then face questions about their employment.
"They kind of draw the line," Mr. Williams said. "You can't force them to give up that information."
The OCF audit staff is likely to ask for additional information if no one's employer is listed throughout the filing, Mr. Williams said.
"Based on the response, it might be sufficient, and you move on, or it might be a situation where you have to amend the information," he said.
Ms. Alexander's filing also lists about 20 towns outside of the District as having a "DC" postal code, a phenomenon that crops up to a lesser extent in other candidates' filings. One of her opponents, William Bennett, lists both an "Alexandria, DC," and "Alexandra, VA," in his recent report, and other candidates list addresses such as "Bethesda, DC" or "Great Falls, DC."
Mr. Williams said the prevalence of Maryland and Virginia towns listed as "DC" locales "might be a data-entry issue," noting he thinks that "DC" is the default setting on the computer filing screen's drop box.
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About the Author
Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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