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D.C. ethics board says it can't sanction council members for pre-July 2012 conduct

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Local,DC,People,D.C. Council,Jim Graham,April Burbank

At a D.C. Council oversight hearing Thursday, representatives of the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability said they could not sanction elected officials for conduct that occurred before the board was formed in July 2012, citing a provision in the U.S. Constitution.

"Because the constitutional issue is there, there's really nothing anyone can do legislatively to fix it. We've looked at it, the council's looked at it," said Darrin Sobin, the District's government ethics director, told The Washington Examiner after the hearing. "We carry out the law to the fullest extent that we're legally authorized to do."

Ethics board chairman Robert Spagnoletti said that although the board could enforce regulations that had been in place for government employees up to five years in the past, they could not impose retroactive sanctions on elected officials.

This was the same reasoning given in the ethics board's only order thus far. Earlier this month, the three-member panel issued an opinion that ripped D.C. Councilman Jim Graham for offering in 2008 to trade his vote on the city's $38 million lottery contract in exchange for a company dropping its bid to develop a property owned by Metro. But Spagnoletti said the board had no authority to sanction him.

In addition to that order, Spagnoletti said the board had issued seven formal advisory opinions since July. They have one ethics investigation in progress, along with 20 preliminary investigations.

The ethics board is also planning to hire a director for the Open Government Office, whose responsibilities would include monitoring the District's freedom of information requests.

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