DC Council Now Poised To Take Down Mayor’s PAC

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A political action committee affiliated with District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser has raised more than $300,000 so far this year, but that gravy train may come to an abrupt halt if new council legislation passes.

Seven of the 13 members on the council signed on to legislation Tuesday morning that would close a loophole in city campaign finance laws that is allowing the mayor’s supporters to raise unlimited donations.

WAMU’s Patrick Madden originally uncovered FreshPAC’s plan to funnel uncapped funds into city council and mayoral races last month, and the legal loophole raised more than a few eyebrows among council members.

“Unlimited donations undermine the voice of the people, which is why I introduced this measure to close the loophole that allows political action committees to raise unlimited donations in non-election years,” Council Member David Grosso said while introducing the bill.

The council passed a new law last year that brought an end to the “LLC Loophole,” which limited the amount of money corporations can donate to political campaigns. In closing the loophole, though, the council created another, potentially larger, loophole for political action committees.

Under the law passed last year, political action committees can raise an unlimited amount of money during non-election years, which is exactly what FreshPAC intends to do.

Ben Soto, FreshPAC treasurer and former Bowser campaign treasurer, told WAMU Bowser has attended and spoken at two FreshPAC fundraisers, and the intention of the organization is to push her political agenda.

“Mayors can’t do it by themselves,” Soto told the radio station. “In order to move a city with as many people as D.C. forward, you have to do it with outside help.”

Most of the $300,000 donated to the PAC so far has come from corporations and developers who do business with the city or who would like to start, according to filings made with the Office of Campaign Finance.

Several developers actively bidding for parts of the city’s revamping of the Southwest Waterfront have donated $10,000 or more. Three other men appointed to boards by Bowser also donated $10,000 each to the PAC.

Out of the 26 donations made to the PAC between August and October, 11 came from from people or corporations located outside the city. Seven of the 11 donations were for $10,000 or more.

Steve Adams, president of two private ambulance companies based near Atlanta, Ga., donated $10,000 to FreshPac Oct. 1. Two days prior, Bowser began pushing legislation that will bring private ambulances into the city to handle low priority calls.

Council Member Mary Cheh cited this privatization of basic government services among other things for her support of the bill, asking: “What’s going on in the District of Columbia?”

“[This is a] kind of a shakedown of those doing business or [who] want to do business in the district,” she said. “Just what are we becoming here, Tamany Hall?”

Council members Charles Allen, Anita Bonds, Brianne Nadeau, Elissa Silverman and Phil Mendelson also supported the bill.

Notably absent from conversation about the proposed law to close the PAC loophole were council freshmen Brandon Todd and LaRuby May, close allies of Bowser who could stand to lose a lot of campaign cash if the law is passed.

Bowser heavily supported the two members in a special election this year. Todd filled Bowser’s old seat after she became mayor and May, a former Bowser campaign organizer, filled the seat left by Marion Barry after his death in 2014.

A spokesman for Bowser did not immediately respond for request for comment on this story.

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