It was with a mixed reaction I read the Washington Post column by Aaron Davis, “Big money for the White House and for Congress. Now for D.C. city hall, too?” It raised the issue of how supporters of Muriel Bowser are raising big money “the new political action committee that aims to raise $1 million this year to further her agenda, including re-electing favored council members.”
The founders of FreshPAC as they are calling it are using the loophole in D.C. election law that allows them to raise unlimited money in a non-election year. It is similar to federal Super PACS and it has been accepting unlimited contributions. Ben Soto, the treasurer of the PAC said, “We’re reaching out to folks who are happy with the mayor and who want to support her, and we’ve had a really good response.” That is not surprising as many people believe Muriel Bowser is doing a good job.
I believe her vision for the future of the District is the right one. She is trying to balance the need for city investment in new business and make doing business in the District easier while making investments in affordable housing, job training, education and public safety. Achieving the right balance is never easy and there will always be those thinking you are doing it wrong.
The question is whether the right answer to pushing the agenda forward is raising big money from those who have direct business interests in current city projects. One thing the PAC is doing right is releasing the names of all its donors so at a minimum people can see a donor’s connections to city government and the mayor.
As I read the names of donors it does appear the PAC shouldn’t have taken money from some of them. Some are lightning rods and remind residents of past questionable issues Bowser had to deal with; some have recently been appointed to a board or commission. The Post reported, “Three men that Bowser has appointed to powerful boards and commissions also have contributed $10,000 each before or after their position confirmations. A fourth has given $2,500, and a fifth is serving as the PAC’s attorney and is paid by the fund.” Taking major donations from those people only looks bad and those individuals might have been wise to keep their wallets closed to keep from making themselves or the mayor look bad.
Like many, I believe the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United was wrong and hurt our political system. I support Hillary Clinton who has said she will only nominate Supreme Court justices who agree with her that Citizens United needs to be overturned and if needed would support a constitutional amendment to overturn it. At the same time I don’t think she should unilaterally tie her hands in an election saying she won’t raise the money needed to win. I admire the ability of the Sanders campaign to raise big money from small donors, but in the general election even more money will be needed to level the playing field with Republicans.
In D.C., you could posit the same thing: We should end all ability to raise unlimited money but does a politician or his or her supporters unilaterally say they won’t raise it while it is legal to do so?
D.C. is in many ways still a small town and Congress has oversight of our budget and legislation. We have a huge divide between rich and poor and it’s getting bigger. We have a Council quickly changing with eight members serving fewer than four years. It is understandable the mayor wants to build a coalition on the Council to move her agenda forward. Nationally I would like to see a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress to move the president’s agenda forward.
Craig Holman from Public Citizen said about the PAC, “It’s exceedingly troubling. This is nurturing a lack of reasonable regulation to keep companies from trying to buy government contracts. I fully expect the city to run into similar scandals that we saw under the previous mayor: This is on the road to do so.” In response, the mayor’s chief of staff, John Falcicchio, who is not affiliated with the PAC said, “What you have here is an entity that was formed outside the government to promote and expand the mayor’s agenda, and everything they do is reported.”
It would help if Mayor Bowser stopped fundraising for the PAC and didn’t go to events where the PAC is soliciting donations and introduced legislation to make this illegal in the future.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime Democratic Party and LGBT rights activist.