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Posted at 1:13 PM ET, 12/21/2010

Council votes to allow its staffers to fundraise; exempts committees from sunshine law

By Mike DeBonis

At the last meeting of its term today, the D.C. Council took up a pair of bills that govern its own standards and practices.

One bill governs the political activities of government employees and elected officials. The District's political activities law was long governed by the federal Hatch Act itself and enforced by the federal Office of Special Counsel. The new law is intended to localize the restrictions, but otherwise closely follows the Hatch language. But member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) moved to amend the bill to allow the mayor and each council member to designate a staff member allowed to engage in campaign activities, including fundraising, while on leave.

It has been common practice for city government employees to take personal leave to work on political campaigns, but pursuant to a ruling by the Office of Special Counsel, directly soliciting political donations was prohibited. Cheh's language loosened that stricture, but not without opposition: Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) opposed having government employees doing fundraising -- especially in the mayor's case.

"If you can't find someone outside of your staff to fundraise for you, you're in bad shape," Barry said. He was joined in opposing the Cheh measure by Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).

The second bill is a rewrite of the city's open-meetings law, intended to strengthen notice and quorum requirements for official meetings of decision-making bodies -- including the council.

But, as they did two weeks ago, a majority of council members voted to exempt the council's committees, where much of the legislative grunt work gets done, from the sunshine provisions.

Committees, Mendelson argued, are "much more of a shirtsleeves operation," and the notice requirements in the law would be "burdensome to the legislative process."

"We should be accountable for our actions, and we are accountable when we vote," he said.

Council members rejected an amendment by Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) to apply the law to committees; only Muriel Bowser and Wells joined Graham in support. The final bill passed without the change.

By Mike DeBonis  | December 21, 2010; 1:13 PM ET
Categories:  The District  
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