- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Council member Mary M. Cheh has directed her staff to work up legislation that would ban — or at least significantly curtail — the use of money orders to finance campaigns in the District.

Ms. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said she hopes to introduce a bill before the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday after circulating it around the John A. Wilson Building to gauge support among her colleagues.

“I know I’m doing it, whether or not anyone else is,” Ms. Cheh said.

Money orders have become a key point of interest among sitting D.C. officials and candidates vying for nominations in the April 3 primary elections.

Federal prosecutors this week issued subpoenas to at least one council member’s campaign staff — Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat is confirmed to be among them — requesting all records related to Jeffrey E. Thompson, his companies and his associates and their prolific contributions to D.C. political campaigns since 2003. The request follows a March 2 raid on Mr. Thompson’s home and offices, although no one has been accused of any crimes or wrongdoing.

Staff from the offices of Mayor Vincent C. Gray and council Chairman Kwame R. Brown each told The Washington Times on Wednesday they have not receive a subpoena.

Although federal investigators have been mum on what they are looking for, news reports suggest the use of money orders, which could be used to shroud straw donors to various campaigns, may be their focus.

Ms. Cheh said her money-order bill could potentially merge with her recent legislation to ban corporate donations to political campaigns, if the latter bill gets a hearing before the Committee on Government Operations chaired by council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat.

Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, co-introduced the corporate-giving ban and is believed to be the only city lawmaker who has not received money from Mr. Thompson’s fundraising machine. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he said he has not received subpoena from federal prosecutors.

Asked about money orders and D.C. campaigns, he said his “first instinct is to say yes, we should ban them.”

“But D.C. has a disproportionate number of people who are unbanked,” Mr. Wells said, referring to residents without checking accounts. “You make an assumption about people and I’m not sure it’s good to make assumptions or play into stereotypes of any kind.”

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said he would “certainly consider” the prohibition. He said any such action should be annexed to existing campaign finance legislation or as part of a comprehensive bill, and not in piecemeal fashion.

“Should we knee-jerk and just ban money orders?” Mr. Evans said. “I don’t think that’s a good way to run the legislative process.”

Ms. Cheh said her bill could be tweaked once there is additional vetting of “the byproducts” of such a ban.

“Maybe instead of banning them outright, you could put guardrails around them,” she said. Those limits could include a $25 maximum on money-order donations — the same limit imposed on cash contributions — or a cap on the number of money orders a candidate could accept per campaign.