- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Two D.C. Council members proposed legislation Tuesday that bans corporate donations to city candidates and officials, an aggressive proposal that comes four days after federal agents obtained records from one of the city’s most prolific political contributors.

The bill by council members Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, and Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, also establishes a firewall between city contractors and the politicians who approve their contracts. It severely limits, and in most cases bans, their ability to donate to political races, a response to the “pay-to-play” culture that can influence campaign finance and corresponding policy decisions.

Ms. Cheh did not mention the raid of Jeffrey E. Thompson’s home and offices but noted there had been a commitment to revisit campaign finance laws after sweeping debate on ethics reform in recent months.

“I think the time is now to do that,” she said.

Mr. Thompson — the president of an accounting firm and owner of D.C. Chartered Health Plan, which holds a lucrative Medicaid managed-care contract with the city — is renowned for his campaign fundraising efforts in the District through his companies and associates.

Federal authorities obtained materials from him late Friday, but declined to divulge the full intent of their investigation. Mr. Thompson has not been accused of wrongdoing.

“I think a lot of us are surprised, even the most jaded of us,” Mr. Wells said Tuesday of the raid.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown referred the new bill to the Committee on Government Operations, whose chairman is council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat.

Late last year, Mr. Wells added an amendment to the council’s ethics bill that forced principal business owners to disclose when they used subsidiary companies to inflate their total donations to a single candidate, a practice known as “bundling.”

Mr. Wells said Ms. Cheh approached him Tuesday morning about revamping the measure.

He said this bill goes further by banning the corporate contributions outright, though he did not expect his fellow lawmakers to support the measure.

“I’m tickled, but I have no confidence that they will vote for this bill,” Mr. Wells said. “My colleagues absolutely do not want this bill.”

None of the other 10 council members joined Mr. Wells and Ms. Cheh as co-sponsors.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said the city should impose limits on campaign contributions “because money can corrupt.”

“But if limitations are not carefully done and thoughtful, all it will do is drive contributions underground,” Mr. Mendelson, adding that the public would know even less as a consequence.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said additional caps on campaign donations will result only in end-around problems such as the influence of super PACs on the national stage.

“I think our system of disclosure is the perfect way to do it,” Mr. Evans said, forecasting little support for the bill’s sponsors. “I think they’re just grandstanding on the issue.”

A group known as the D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust is pushing a ballot initiative for November’s general election that would ban direct corporate contributions to public officials and candidates in the District.

Ms. Cheh said her bill is not intended to undermine those efforts.

“I think that can proceed along two tracks,” she said.



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