Activists file challenge to get corporate political donations ban on D.C. ballot

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A group of activists hoping to ban direct corporate contributions to D.C. political campaigns is challenging an Aug. 8 ruling by the city’s Board of Elections in a last-ditch effort to put their initiative on the November ballot.

Members of the D.C. Public Trust said a pair of “line-by-line reviews of the board’s work” show they gathered signatures from more than 24,500 registered voters — more than enough to put their issue before the voters. The board ruled petitioners had not gathered enough signatures.

Citing errors in the board’s review, D.C. Public Trust filed a challenge in D.C. Superior Court on Monday.

“Our review finds that Initiative 70 clearly qualified for the ballot, and we expect the court will agree,” said organizer Bryan Weaver, a Ward 1 resident.

The group’s army of volunteers collected and submitted more than 30,000 signatures from across the city, but the elections board said just 21,572 — or 1,726 short of the minimum threshold — were valid.

The activists had 10 days to consider an appeal. They say their findings will turn the tide in their favor.

Among their claims, the group’s court filing says the board invalidated signatures because the registered voter used a nickname instead of his or her full name. It also tossed signatures that had been collected at polling sites “moments after the individual had voted,” court papers say.

In cases in which a person’s name showed up twice on petition pages, they say the board invalided both signatures instead of counting one.

Using the election board’s guidelines, the group said it “counted 24,645 duly registered voters identified by the Board — 1,346 more than the 23,299 [5 percent] required by law … In addition, the review conducted by D.C. Public Trust identified more than 1,000 duly registered voters on petition sheets who had been improperly disqualified.”

Technically, the group had until mid-September to gather more signatures under the 180-day circulation period. The extra time would allow them to qualify for a future special election if D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson wins the November election for chairman and permanently vacates the at-large seat he left when former council Chairman Kwame R. Brown resigned amid felony charges in June.

But regulations from the election board suggest the group will have to start from scratch. The relevant clause says: “Signatures submitted in support of a rejected initiative or referendum petition shall not be resubmitted for filing in order to qualify the measure for an election ballot.”

The situation coincides with D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s plans to roll out more nuanced legislation intended to curb pay-to-play politics in the city. Among its reforms, the legislation would require corporations that contribute to a candidate to identify all of their subsidiaries, affiliates and controlling shareholders.

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