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Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: D.C.'s toothless ethics tiger

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Opinion,Local Editorial,D.C. Council,Jim Graham

Three separate investigations -- by Robert Andary, the former watchdog of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, an international law firm commissioned by the Metro board, and now the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability -- have all come to the same conclusion: Councilman Jim Graham, D-Ward 1, violated the public trust when he improperly tried to influence the city's lottery contract in 2008.

A preliminary investigation by the city's ethics board found that Graham "committed one or more violations of the District of Columbia Code of Conduct" by trying to link the contract to a separate Metro development deal for the benefit of a campaign contributor.

The finding concurred with an independent investigation by Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft that was commissioned by the Metro board and released last October. Backed up by more than 18,000 pages of documents and sworn testimony, that investigation concluded that Graham also violated the transit agency's code of ethics and pitted "the interests of the Council ... against the interests of Metro."

Andary's 100-page report, which has been referred to in court documents but never publicly released, reportedly also implicates Graham. But so far, Graham has not been held accountable for any of these violations of the public trust.

When Metro's report came out, the agency said it could not impose sanctions on its former chairman because Graham was no longer a member of the Metro board. The ethics board now says that it would have launched "a formal investigation and Notice of Violation" but that it lacks any authority to sanction Graham for violations that occurred before it was established in 2012. So having conducted a preliminary investigation, they have decided just to shut the whole thing down. Proceeding with a full-fledged investigation now, the three-member board claimed, would be "an unwise use of resources." An absurd conclusion, given that rooting out corruption by public officials is one of the best uses of public funds.

This is precisely what we predicted in this space when we warned that the ethics board was intentionally designed to create a false impression that the council was serious about curbing rampant corruption within its ranks. The buck ultimately stops with the council, which passed the legislation making the city's newly formed ethics board the toothless tiger it is. Thanks to its hard work, it appears that neither it nor Graham will ever be held accountable.

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