Kwame Brown proposes sweeping ethics reform

Local,DC,Freeman Klopott
D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown introduced sweeping ethics reform legislation on Tuesday that would create an accountability office tasked with investigating and penalizing city employees and council members for ethical breaches.

Ethics reform was a key component of Brown's campaign platform, but it appeared Brown didn't have support for the initiative during a council retreat in January.

Much has changed since then. Brown himself has been caught asking taxpayers to foot the bill for a "fully loaded" Lincoln Navigator, his campaign finances have been questioned by an audit, and Mayor Vincent Gray has become the subject of two federal investigations into his campaign and hiring practices. City leaders -- D.C. Council members among them -- have been left to remake their image in the public's eye, and Brown's ethics bill gives them the chance to do that.

The reform bill "is a giant leap forward in the right direction," said political consultant Chuck Thies. "The council's hand has been forced, Kwame Brown's hand has been forced, and anything less than legislation that creates robust reform would have been a whitewash."

The Office of Government Accountability the bill proposes would be formed within the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. Its director would be selected by the mayor from a list of candidates provided by the elections board, then be approved by the council. The director would then serve at the elections board's pleasure. The accountability office would have the power to investigate any issue involving "lobbying, conflict of interest, financial disclosures, and other ethical matters" related to D.C. employees and the council. It would be able to issue subpoenas as it investigates, and levy fines and other penalties when those investigations conclude.

The bill doesn't suggest a funding source for the office, and the cost of the legislation won't be known until after a public hearing. But finding the dollars in the already tight budget might prove difficult.

Brown said he'll find the money.

"The objective is to get the ideas out and actually have ideas to discuss," he said. "It's the first time we'll at least have the discussion."

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