With an exquisitely poor sense of timing, District Council members voted last week to give themselves another full year in which to file their 2011 financial disclosure forms. As The Examiner's Liz Farmer reported, the council's little gift to itself came in the form of a line item tucked into the city's 2013 budget that moves the deadline from early this month to next May -- months after the November election. The city's toothless Office of Campaign Finance will be handling any financial disclosures for the rest of 2012, instead of the highly touted but still vacant ethics panel it voted to create last year.
A day after councilmembers punted on their own responsibility to publicly disclose potential conflicts of interest, a top aide to Mayor Vincent Gray pleaded guilty in federal court to obstruction of justice for secretly diverting campaign funds in an attempt to weaken then-incumbent Adrian Fenty. Thomas Gore, the former assistant treasurer of Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign, admitted he made unlawful payments to former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown to attack Fenty on the campaign trail.
Gore, who also managed the finances for Gray's previous campaigns for council chairman, was caught on a wiretap admitting he shredded a spiral notebook in which he had recorded the illegal payoffs to Gray campaign consultant Howard Brooks. Brooks himself pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI when he denied delivering the money to Brown, which U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. characterized as "the underhanded dealings that tainted the integrity of the 2010 mayoral campaign."
Since the 2010 campaign finance scandal is just the latest to sully the reputation of D.C. government, both the mayor and the council should be eager to demonstrate their renewed commitment to ethics reform. Yet, after dragging his feet for months, Mayor Gray has still not nominated anyone to the new three-member Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which was supposed to be up and running by Oct. 1. And councilmembers not only put off their financial disclosure deadline, but Chairman Kwame Brown also inserted another provision in the 2013 budget that exempts their own staff members from criminal and credit background checks.
The irony is that, in a city that demands the right to run its own affairs, the federal prosecutor seems to be the only one willing to protect the public from political crooks and charlatans.