Jack Evans Report
A subject that is unfortunately getting a lot of press these days is the alleged ethical failures of a number of the District’s elected leaders. No fewer than ten bills have been introduced in recent weeks by members of the Council purporting to provide additional safeguards to campaign rules, use of constituent services funds, and other areas that could present possible conflicts of interest.
On Oct. 26, I attended a hearing of the Committee on Government Operations chaired by Councilmember Muriel Bowser to address these issues and consider the various alternative bills proposed by our colleagues. During that hearing, I expressed my views on the subject. Lack of enforcement is the primary problem that I see -- we have a number of good laws already on the books, but without adequate enforcement, those rules do us no good. I support enhanced disclosure requirements, more rigorous enforcement when violations are discovered, and more meaningful penalties assessed on violators. Current practice is to simply assess a $5,000 penalty a year after an election is already won, for example. Politicians can view a penalty that small as simply a cost of doing business, and it is invariably paid with campaign funds rather than out of an elected official’s own pocket.
The Committee on Government Operations will hold an additional hearing on ethics reform on Nov. 30. Unlike the first hearing, the purpose of which was to discuss a number of general concepts, this hearing will be focused on feedback regarding a specific proposal that Councilmember Bowser released to the public on Nov. 18. The heart of Councilmember Bowser’s approach will be to create an independent Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to enforce a more clearly defined Code of Conduct. The board would have the power to administer oaths and issue subpoenas. The board, as proposed, would also have access to adequate staffing, partially due to a suggested re-purposing of current District employees from agencies, such as the Office of the Attorney General and Office of the Inspector General.
As I am continuing to study this bill and formulate my positions, I would encourage all my constituents also to read the bill (which can be viewed at http://goo.gl/5sFB8) and share their views.
You are welcome either to come to the hearing or to submit written testimony to put your thoughts on the record. I plan to remain very engaged in the ethics reform process and appreciate your thoughts.
Let me end on this note – while Thanksgiving is but one day of the year, I have to say I am truly thankful every day. Thankful for my family and friends and thankful for my colleagues and staff. Thankful to have the opportunity to make a difference every day in what I do. So, don’t let the week go by without a little reflection and hopefully a nice meal with family and friends, too!