Feb. 7, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Free at Last — to Lobby for a Full Vote on Capitol Hill

Congress actually removed the rider about a year ago, but D.C. had already passed a fiscal 2008 budget request that did not include the $500,000 appropriation. President Bush has put the rider back into his proposed budget, but it’s not expected to pass Congress.

Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), who heads the Appropriations subcommittee that handles the district budget, says he intends to remove it.

“In last year’s Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, I took out the prohibition on the use of local funds for a DC Vote campaign,” he said in a statement. “I plan to do the same in the bill this year.”

Although the change will allow DC Vote to use more money for lobbying, the group said it didn’t intend to use much of the city money for that purpose. Right now, the group only uses 8 percent of its non-city funds for lobbying — about 12 percent less than it is allowed under its nonprofit status.

Instead, the group will simply be able to act more fluidly, Zherka said.

Right now, DC Vote can take trips that include active lobbying only if they completely pay for it out of non-city funds — which is a difficult task.

Zherka is on one of those rare lobbying trips this week, gathering support in Mississippi to convince Republican Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker to support the D.C. voting rights bill.

For most of the group’s recent push, however, trips to targeted Senators’ states have been paid for by the city and thus limited to public awareness. Of course, other groups, such as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, have openly lobbied. And D.C. law and lobby firm Patton Boggs has pushed the issue pro bono.

Still, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said it was frustrating not to be able to have restriction-free funding now, when voting rights advocates need it most. “It would be very anticlimactic for us to only get the money in October,” she said, “because I’m not sure where the bill would be.”

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