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WASHINGTON, D.C.- Controversy surrounding the dismissal of two city government employees who did not award contracts to campaign donors supportive of Mayor Muriel Bowser continued to unfold this week. Councilmember Mary Cheh held a closed hearing on Thursday, December 1st, in response to fresh allegations from one of these employees that he was fired for political reasons.
“D.C. residents are increasingly concerned about the influence of contractors and other wealthy donors in city government,” said Zach Weinstein, Democracy Advocate with the US Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). “This matter should be investigated in a thorough and public manner, but one-off investigations can’t be our only solution to the culture of pay-to-play politics. We need reforms that refocus our government on local voters rather than wealthy donors and contractors. Instead of waiting for the next scandal to erupt, our lawmakers should enact lasting solutions that ensure fair elections and a government accountable to the people.”
The scandal initially broke in August, after several staff resigned or were fired from the Department of General Services after that agency passed over Fort Myer Construction for two lucrative contracts. Top executives and their families at Fort Myer have donated more than $130,000 to 18 candidates since 2011, including $20,000 in the 2016 primary, according to US PIRG and Public Citizen.
This scandal comes as a coalition of organizations pushes for legislation to provide public matching funds for candidates who rely on small donations from D.C. residents. Last week, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on several campaign finance bills, including the Citizens Fair Elections Act of 2015. Councilmembers Charles Allen (Ward 6), Elissa Silverman (At-Large), Robert White (At-Large), and David Grosso (At-Large), along with 25 volunteers and advocates, made statements in support of the bill.
Recent reports from U.S. PIRG show that small donor empowerment legislation would increase the amount of campaign funds coming from D.C. residents. In the 2012 and 2014 elections, less than 5% of campaign contributions came from D.C. residents giving less than $100, while more than 60% came from either corporations or donors who live outside the district.
“Our current campaign finance system all but ensures that candidates have to either have a connection with, or a message that appeals to, wealthy donors and corporate interests,” said Weinstein. “This inevitably leads to the perception that contractors like Ft. Myer, who are able to contribute tens of thousands of dollars, have undue influence in D.C.’s political process.”
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