On the face of it, a complaint the D.C. Republican Party filed today with the Office of Campaign Finance against ten of the D.C. Council’s 13 members looks like it’s got some umph to it.
City rules say elected pols can’t use their constituent services funds to “[promote] or [oppose] a political party or committee,” but the D.C. GOP found ten councilmembers using their constituent funds to give to political organizations, mostly the the Ward 7 Democrats, the Ward 8 Democrats, and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.
Here’s their spreadsheet o’ shame:
[scribd id=63753818 key=key-1gb6zqgpnm98qfpxl3b7 mode=list]
Before we go much further, let’s acknowledge we aren’t talking big bucks here. The GOP’s tally adds up to $5,405. And their list goes all the way back to 2004.
That means that if these donations are technically against the rules, and they very well could be, then OCF has had nearly seven years to tell councilmembers those kind of donations are verboten. But OCF didn’t, and these kind of donations continued without anyone saying boo, until now.
A handful of councilmembers and their staff say the listed donations to political organizations weren’t for political purposes, but were for scholarship dinners and other good things.
At-Large Councilmember David Catania‘s office has details on the four donations the DCGOP is trying to ding him with.
An October 2006 $100 donation to Gertrude Stein was for part of farewell party for former Mayor Anthony Williams. The party was sponsored by Catania and other gay-rights groups, and Gertrude Stein volunteered to handle the finances, says Catania’s office.
Two donations to the Ward 7 Democrats “Lorraine Whitlock Memorial Scholarship and Awards” dinners where the proceeds went to scholarships. And the $50 donation to the Ward 8 Democrats last year was for the “Ward 8 Intergenerational Unity 2010 Red and White Ball.”
Other councilmembers or their staff tell LL their donations were in a similar vein—which, if true, would mean there’s not much meat on the GOP’s complaint. Some technical rule-breaking, quite possibly, but nothing malicious or sleazy.
But Paul Craney, executive director of the D.C. GOP, says those excuses won’t hunt. “The law’s the law,” says Craney. “When checks are written to a politician organization, that is a political donation.”
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh seems to be giving legitimacy to the GOP’s view in a letter she just fired off to OCF. Cheh says she gave $50 to Gertrude Stein’s “Capital Pride Champions of Equality” reception this summer, but “did so without realizing the political nature of the event.” Cheh says she asked for, and received, her money back. (Cheh also says the $500 donation given in 2007 to the Ward 3 Democrats the DCGOP tried to pin on her was given by her predecessor, Kathy Patterson. OCF records back that up.)
Says Craney: “It’s wonderful to hear Councilmember Cheh agrees with us that constituent service funds should not be making political contributions. Will she call on her nine council peers to demand refunds as well?”
LL’s guess: no.
Update: Councilmember Phil Mendelson says he’s in the clear. His statement:
“Each year I have donated money from my constituent services fund to support educational scholarships. Sometimes these scholarships are sponsored by ward Democratic organizations. The Office of Campaign Finance has stated that these expenditures are within the law, because they are for scholarships. However, I thank the DC GOP for its vigilance.”