WASHINGTON (AP) — Stung by accusations of pay-to-play politics in the nation's capital, supporters of District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser said Wednesday they would shut down a political-action committee that raked in big contributions from city contractors.
Bowser's supporters started FreshPAC this year, taking advantage of a law that allows political-action committees to raise unlimited funds during non-election years. They quickly raised $340,000 and set a goal of $1 million, and they planned to use the money to help elect D.C. Council members who support the Democratic mayor.
FreshPAC took its name from Bowser's promise of a "fresh start" during her campaign for mayor, a pledge that referred in part to the campaign-finance scandals the city endured under her predecessor, Vincent Gray.
The FreshPAC donors, many of whom gave $10,000 apiece to the committee, included developers and people who have or are seeking business with the city. Several council members and the District's attorney general, Karl Racine, criticized that practice, saying it gave the appearance of corruption. Two donors to the committee are currently accompanying the mayor on a trade mission to China.
FreshPAC treasurer Ben Soto said Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press that the committee had become a distraction to the mayor. He said it would be shut down and all contributions would be refunded.
"I stand by my assertion that our donors are people who believe in and wanted to support the mayor's agenda," Soto said. "I dispute the notion that contributors gave because they expected something in return or that the mayor would ever even entertain such thought."
A federal investigation into the 2010 campaign of Bowser's predecessor is ongoing, and six people who helped get Gray elected have pleaded guilty to felonies. Gray, whom Bowser defeated in last year's Democratic primary, has not been charged with any crime.
A majority of D.C. Council members signaled their support for a bill that would have outlawed the unlimited contributions that FreshPAC was receiving.
Council member Mary Cheh, one of the committee's strongest critics, said it was polluting the city's politics, in part because incumbents worried its funds might be used against them if they opposed the mayor.
"It was definitely pay to play, right down the line," said Cheh, a Democrat. "It was a terrible, terrible idea. It was unprecedented. I'm delighted that it's off the stage."
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