D.C. Council members haven’t reported potential conflicts of interest

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Photo - Phil Mendelson, who is now D.C. City Council chairman,  in Washington, DC on Monday February 28, 2011. (Andrew Harnik/Examiner)
Phil Mendelson, who is now D.C. City Council chairman, in Washington, DC on Monday February 28, 2011. (Andrew Harnik/Examiner)
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

When the D.C. Council gave itself an extension this summer on disclosing members' potential conflicts of interest from 2011, Ward 4 Councilwoman Muriel Bowser downplayed the move, saying she expected she and her colleagues would still opt to file their disclosures by the original Oct. 2 deadline.

They didn't.

Bowser, who helped shepherd through ethics reform in December, said on Tuesday that she planned to file hers and legislators still should file their disclosures with the Office of Campaign Finance, "and then it'll go back to the ethics board in May."

But others say that scenario is impossible as the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability hasn't even created the paperwork necessary for legislators to fill out their disclosures, even if they did want to file early as Bowser suggested. That paperwork, according to the Board Chairman Robert Spagnoletti, still needs to be approved.

"Within the next couple of weeks I expect to have the financial disclosure rules out," he said.

Now, in a year in which six council members are up for re-election in November, the public won't learn about members' outside finances and conflicts of interest until May 15. The back-and-forth on deadlines has drawn criticism from those who say the council is giving itself a free pass.

"What if we find out that one of the six members up for re-election ... has a serious conflict of interest eight months after the votes are counted?" said political consultant Chuck Thies.

A spokesman for Bowser later said the councilwoman planned to hold an oversight hearing on the issue within the next few weeks.

When ethics reform passed last year, it created the ethic board and required financial disclosures to be filed with it on Oct. 2. But this spring, the council pushed that date back to May 15, 2013, because it appeared the board would not be fully functioning by October.

The delay gives the council an extra year to file its 2011 disclosures. Their 2012 disclosures will also be due in May.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Tuesday that he thought "the council should look at whether we can speed up the reporting." But Thies pointed out that it was the council who moved back the reporting deadline in the first place.

"This is a clear example of the council either being incapable or unwilling to police itself because they're the ones who wrote the law," he said.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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