Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange and Ward 8 Councilmember LaRuby May both lost their D.C. Council seats in last week’s Democratic primary. In Ward 7, Councilmember Yvette Alexander lost by nearly 30 percent of the vote. But their new lame duck status didn’t stop the three councilmembers from playing a crucial role this afternoon, blocking campaign finance reform legislation from Council chairman Phil Mendelson .

At today’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Mendelson pushed legislation that would take people or companies who donate to District political campaigns out of consideration for a year from receiving District contracts worth more than $100,000. Orange introduced an amendment that would have gutted the language. 

In what might be one of the last rides for Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s old bloc before three of them give up their seats in January, the lame duck councilmembers united with Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd (as well as Ward 5’s Kenyan McDuffie and At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds) to back Orange’s amendment. Orange’s amendment passed narrowly, 7-6. 

Orange had a host of arguments about Mendelson’s language. Orange claimed that effectively blocking contractors from contributing to political campaigns would drive the money underground, while also discriminating against councilmembers from poorer, African-American wards. 

Hanging over the debate, although left out of Orange’s speech, is the fact that Orange took an ethics punishment for his attempts to defend one donor from health inspectors and launched a quixotic contracting fight for another.  

Citing the 2012 federal charges against then-Chairman Kwame Brown that propelled him into the chairman’s seat, Mendelson argued that legislation would reduce the appearance of pay-to-play on a Council that can approve or deny many city contracts.

“I became chairman as result of a scandal, so I’ve had to be particularly sensitive of how the public perceives the Council,” Mendelson said. 

Both Todd and May opposed the legislation on the grounds that it would hurt contributions to councilmembers’ constituent service funds (which only sometimes go to benefit constituents). 

Since today’s legislation went down on a single Council vote, Mendelson should have better luck in next year’s session. Presumptive new councilmembers Trayon White (Ward 8) and Robert White (At-Large) have both been allied with Attorney General Karl Racine, who has backed an even stricter two-year ban on campaign contributors receiving city contracts.