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Opinion

Local Editorial: Council needs even tougher 'gotcha' rules

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Opinion,Local Editorial,D.C. Council

Downplaying the D.C. Council's financial disclosure requirements as a bunch of "gotcha" rules, Councilman Jack Evans wants them reviewed and amended even though they've been in effect for less than a year. Evans was particularly dismissive of the rule requiring council members to report any free admission to sporting or other events they accept while on official duty. "I would get rid of this tomorrow if I could get six people to agree with me," he told The Washington Examiner's Alan Blinder.

Designed to identify actual or potential conflicts of interest between council members and lobbyists or companies doing business -- or wanting to do business -- with the city, the "gotcha" requirements were passed in 2011 as part of an ethics reform bill that was touted at the time as "the most comprehensive overhaul ... in a generation." They do need to be updated -- but not the way the Ward 2 councilman thinks.

While the legislation was still being debated, Evans managed to round up enough votes to kill a provision barring council members from spending constituent service funds on tickets to professional sporting events. This was after the Washington Post reported that he spent $135,897 on tickets during the previous 10 years.

If anything, disclosure rules need to be strengthened to include the names, addresses and places of business of all CSF donors -- just like inaugural and transition committees are now required to do. This would identify donors who use separately incorporated real estate properties to make multiple hidden donations to a single candidate or constituent services fund.A ban on such corporate bundling was also stripped from the ethics reform bill, along with a prohibition on city contractors donating money to council members.

It is inappropriate for elected officials to either hand out or receive free tickets to sporting events in the first place. The Council's code of ethics states quite clearly that: "Councilmembers shall not ask for or accept, either directly or through someone else, any gift, gratuity, favor, loan, entertainment, or anything of value from a person who has ... any interest that may be affected by the Councilmembers' performance of official duties."

But it's telling that less than a year after passing a weak, watered-down, loophole-ridden ethics "reform" bill with minimum disclosure requirements, council members accustomed to freebies, but not accountability or public scrutiny, are already chafing under its provisions.

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