WAMU: Racine, Champion Of Campaign Finance Reform, Faces Some Issues Of His Own

Martin Austermuhle
Sep 12, 2017
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D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has made changing the city’s campaign finance laws one of his signature issues, but he’s also found himself entrapped by his own campaign finance problems.

As he readies his re-election campaign, Racine is still dealing with aftermath of his 2014 campaign — and a large personal donation he made to it. Now he says he’ll write off most of the money he lent his campaign, a move made in part to quiet ethical concerns over him fundraising to pay himself back. The decision comes as the D.C. Council prepares to grapple with various campaign finance reform bills, including one Racine wrote.

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“There’s always at a minimum an optical concern with officeholders soliciting funds from, among others, the people that they regulate. That concern can be heightened when the funds that are being solicited are used to pay back a loan that the office holder made to their campaign,” said Adav Noti, who works with the Campaign Legal Center, a group that advocates for changes to campaign finance laws.

“In a sense, the money goes to the campaign, but then goes to the office holder personally. There’s the opportunity there for people who are trying to curry favor with the office holder to make a contribution,” added Noti, who previously worked at the Federal Elections Commission.

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Noti says one way to address the problem and the perceptions it raises would be for D.C. to pass a version of a federal law that allows candidates to pay back up to $250,000 in personal loans using cash the campaign has on hand by election day, but limits repayment thereafter.

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