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D.C. Shadow Delegation Gets a Boost

The District’s shadow Congressional delegation could get a financial boost under legislation approved Tuesday by the D.C. City Council that creates a dedicated fundraising mechanism for the positions.

The legislation, passed on a unanimous vote by the 13-member council, outlines the establishment of an independent commission to raise private funds for the Shadow delegation, which lobbies for statehood and voting rights on Capitol Hill. Its members will be appointed by the city council and D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D).

The District of Columbia Shadow Delegation Statehood Fund Commission Establishment Act would also create a donation line on the city’s individual tax return forms that allows residents to make a voluntary contribution to the delegation.

Shadow Rep. Ray Browne (D) hailed the council’s decision as a boon to the delegation’s lobbying efforts.

“I’m excited about it because it’s going to create a vehicle for the private sector and our citizens to contribute toward our efforts to gain full sovereignty,” Browne said. “We haven’t had a mechanism like that before.”

Under a longstanding Congressional prohibition, the District is prevented from using local tax dollars to lobby for statehood or full Congressional representation.

That ban, which local officials have lobbied Congressional lawmakers to lift in recent years, includes funding to the city’s shadow Congressional delegation, which includes a Representative and two Senators.

Although the District provides office space to the delegation at Judiciary Square, the locally elected posts are unpaid, and the officials have to raise funds for such day-to-day costs as travel and office supplies.

The newly approved city legislation, sponsored by At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D), would not provide salaries to the Shadow posts, but it would allow the funds to be used for other costs, including paid staff.

The addition of paid staff could provide significant organizational benefits, said Browne, who currently relies on a corps of volunteers.

“My hope is it will allow us to add paid staff and that’ll make a huge difference,” Browne said.

That sentiment was echoed by Shadow Sen. Florence Pendleton (D), who typically works without assistance, except for employing student volunteers during the summer months.

“If we got enough to have a staff where you could have two or three people, that would be nice,” said Pendleton, the delegation’s senior member. “You could go about and do a lot more things that you would like to do.”

A Mendelson spokesman said there are no projections on how much the new nine-member commission will be able to raise, but Browne suggested that a budget of $100,000 would considerably help the delegation.

However, the delegation’s junior shadow Senator, Paul Strauss (D), raised concerns about the commission, including where the panel would seek funds.

“Are we going to have corporate sponsorships?” asked Strauss, who added that he will continue to raise funds independently.

Strauss did praise the inclusion of the donation line on the city’s individual income tax forms — a measure he had strongly supported.

“That makes us accountable to the citizens who pay taxes, which is who we should be funded by and who we’re accountable too,” Strauss said.

Browne also praised the tax form line, saying, “The check-off on the tax-form is really attractive. Citizens are always saying, ‘What can I do to help?’ Not everybody can march but … everybody can check off their tax return and contribute a dollar or two.”

The legislation now goes to Williams for approval. Although voting rights advocates asserted that the mayor has voiced support for the measure, it remained unclear Tuesday whether Williams would sign off on the legislation.

“The mayor is looking into the political and legal ramification of it,” said Williams spokeswoman Sharon Gang.

Among the areas under review, Gang said, are whether the legislation would clash with the existing Congressional ban on local funds.

Even if Williams approves the legislation, it still faces a 30-day review by Congress.

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