- The Washington Times - Monday, December 12, 2011

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells is pushing three proposals to “reduce the influence of pay-to-play” before his colleagues put their final stamp on ethics legislation meant to stem the trickle of scandal out of city hall.

Mr. Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, has circulated a memo that reminds the council of amendments he introduced unsuccessfully from the dais before the bill’s initial approval on Dec. 6.

The memo also prompts members to make good on a promise to work with Mr. Wells on the general intent of his amendments, which would prohibit “bundling” — using subsidiaries to contribute more money to candidates than the legal limit for individuals — and ban city contractors from donating to political campaigns.

Mr. Wells also wants to eliminate constituent services funds, which consist of leftover campaign dollars and private donations. They are intended to meet residents’ urgent needs, but members have been criticized for using them on sports tickets and catering bills.

He will have to convince his colleagues by next Tuesday, the day set by council Chairman Kwame R. Brown as the deadline for a second vote on the bill. The chairman set up working groups with members and their chiefs of staff for Monday and Tuesday of this week.

Council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, authored the ethics legislation from a dozen proposals before the council. The bill would create a three-member ethics board and establish restrictions on influence among elected officials.

Several council staff members say they do not expect any of the council’s 13 members, and certainly not a majority, to vote against the ethics legislation in light of the poor climate surrounding elected officials in the District.

Therefore, members must push for their priorities in the amendment process if they don’t want to oppose the final bill.

“I commend council member Bowser and her staff for their hard work on the bill thus far, but I believe the legislation can, and should, go further,” Mr. Wells said in his memo.

He included a transcript of a Nov. 30 hearing on the ethics bill, during which representatives of the Office of Campaign Finance testified about his proposal to prohibit corporate and subsidiary bundling.

“Both the director and the general counsel of the Office of Campaign Finance testified directly that they support this specific language, and stated it would help them in their role to oversee campaign contributions,” Mr. Wells said.

Council member Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, is also expected to resurrect efforts to amend the bill before a final vote Dec. 20. He wants to keep the Board of Elections and Ethics intact, instead of divorcing ethics oversight from the current board’s election duties as the current bill proposes.

Mr. Orange also wants to let voters decide if council members should be full time, with no outside employment, and provide input on the best way to remove an elected official who runs afoul of ethics laws.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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