One of the most important local stories of 2012 is about what didn't happen in the District of Columbia. The year inauspiciously began with the 2010 campaigns of the city's top two elected officials -- Mayor Vincent Gray and former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown -- under federal investigation. Beginning with the mayor himself, city officials made lots of promises to strengthen the District's campaign finance laws. But none of those promises has been kept.
On April 4, Gray promised to roll out his "comprehensive" campaign finance reform package. In May, he missed his own deadline. In March, he failed to meet the deadline to appoint three members to the new Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. He said he'd get his nominations to the council by June. That's when Kwame Brown pleaded guilty to misdemeanor campaign finance violation and bank fraud.
By the end of August, three of Gray's former campaign aides had also pleaded guilty to destroying evidence, making illegal campaign contributions and running an illegal $653,800 shadow campaign against former Mayor Adrian Fenty. But Gray had still not rolled out his campaign finance reform proposal.
"Campaign finance reform? Don't hold your breath," the Aug. 29 Examiner Local Editorial cautioned, pointing out that the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance -- which would have been in charge of enforcing stringent new campaign finance laws if the D.C. Council ever got around to passing them -- was bending over backward not to enforce existing laws in the case of former interim Chairman Pro Tempore Michael Brown, who discovered "unauthorized disbursements" in his re-election account.
In September, two months before he lost his re-election bid, Michael Brown predicted that no campaign reform legislation would pass before the end of the year. He was right.
Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, who chairs the committee that has oversight over local campaigns, blamed Gray for not introducing his proposal until October. Bowser insisted she wasn't "stalling" when she told Examiner Columnist Jonetta Rose Barras that it was more important to come up with "good policy" than to rush a bad bill through. So there was no rush -- and no policy change either.
After a full year of foot-dragging inertia, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson claimed there just wasn't enough time left to tackle campaign finance reform. He promised to do something in January. But as we said before, don't hold your breath.