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Sincerity indispensable to fight corruption
On Jan. 8, D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) proposed a series of promising legislative initiatives to make D.C. governance more accountable and just. We congratulate the D.C. Council for responding to concerns expressed by citizens of the District for the opportunities of corruption that exist in the city government, and we hope that they establish effective guidelines for good governance.
One of the most important pieces of legislation is the “Prohibition on Third-Party Employers Amendment Act of 2013,” which bars the District from doing business with any contractor that employs or retains a councilmember. Any ties between current or potential contractors and the family members of public officials must be disclosed as well.
Orange has also pushed for an amendment act that would would cap the number of consecutive terms for Mayor, Council Chairman, Councilmembers, State Board of Education members, and the Attorney General to two terms of four years. The “Constituent-Service Program Amendment Act of 2013” additionally prohibits public servants from using constituent-service funds to purchase tickets to professional sporting events and other performances.
These bills are certainly important in the promotion of transparency and accountability in the local government, but Orange’s motivations for introducing this legislation must be questioned. Over the past year, he was under investigation for suspected misuse of campaign funds. Although the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance released a final audit claiming that Orange’s finances were in order last October, we cannot overlook his acceptance of about $26,000 in the form of 30 money orders and three cashier’s checks that trace back to D.C. contractor Jeffrey Thompson, for example. Despite his legislative attempts to prevent contractors from ingratiating themselves with Council members, Orange appears to have been a beneficiary of the exact thing he is attempting to stop.
D.C. has suffered from multiple cases of questionable fundraising practices, most notably Mayor Vincent Gray’s re-election campaign which was inundated with corruption charges, including misuse of campaign funds. He refused to resign despite the illegal activity present during his campaign.
On the national front, the broader structure of campaign finance threaten the integrity of American democracy. The gun control debate after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary has only highlighted this issue—when the NRA’s interests take precedent over the American people’s safety, there is clearly a problem with our government. And such issues were compounded further with the decision Citizens United Supreme Court ruling of 2010.
Unfortunately, our understanding of what government is and can be is constantly shadowed by the overwhelming power of third-party stakeholders. We deplore the present state of politics, in which commitment to lobbies has overtaken the commitment to constituents. While it may seem obvious that these bills should be passed by the District Council, the truth is our government has been held hostage to special interests for too long. Orange needs to support this legislation, but must take care to follow his own prescriptions as well.