Dan Wedderburn, Assistant Treasurer of DC for Democracy, submitted the following testimony to the Committee of the Whole of the Council of the District of Columbia by on March 26, 2017.
RE: GOVERNMENT CONTRACTOR PAY-TO-PLAY PREVENTION AMENDMENT ACT OF 2017 (BILL 22-0047)
Mr. Chairman and members, I am Dan Wedderburn, chair of the Government Reform Committee of DC For Democracy. DC For Democracy (DC4D) is a leading non-aligned progressive organization in the District with over 500 members. We have repeatedly pushed for major campaign and ethics reform.
DC For Democracy strongly supports the proposed Contractor Pay-to-Play legislation co-introduced by seven Councilmembers We do so now just as DC4D did in testimony back in April 2014 before this same Committee.
Enacting this Bill could have a major impact on reducing the corrupting influence by those who contribute large sums to elect DC councilmembers and the mayor. Importantly, enactment would also help level the playing field between wealthy and middle and low income households thereby stemming DC’s ever-increasing inequality that ranks among the highest in the nation.
The Bill prohibits businesses and individuals from contributing to campaigns who have or are soliciting DC contracts for $100,000 or more up to one year after a primary and general election. It would also eliminate contributions to so-called Constituent Services Funds (CSFs) whereby each councilmember and mayor may receive $40,000 each year, which comes mostly from the same big donors. Supposedly the funds help ailing constituents for such things as avoiding electric or gas cutoff, pay burial expenses and assist in paying rent to avoid eviction. Three years ago, during the scandals, it was found members spent an average of 90% of these funds instead to help win re-election and enhance member self-interests. One result was three councilmembers decided to no longer receive such funds.
DC4D has three concerns. One is that a year ban on contributions is not sufficient to realize the goal of the legislation. A longer ban would go a lot further.
A second concern is what to do about contractors who initially win a contract for under $100,000 but it’s subsequently amended or otherwise revised to increase it over this threshold. At such point, the ban should apply to them.
The third concern is that that unlike in the Bill three years ago, this one is more limited in coverage. For example, It apparently would not apply to anyone receiving a grant or tax abatement. Nor would it apply to those who enter into an agreement with the District for the acquisition, sale or lease of any land or building; or to those receiving title or any other property interest in a street or alley. Why have they been dropped? Is this in the public interest or special interests?
DC4D applauds enactment of some very forward-looking legislation by the Council this past year along with the prospects for this year with respect to pay-to-play. Corruption and voter discontent with previous members, and replacing them with those truly committed to residents has played a large part, as it should.