D.C. Ethics Legislation Proposal

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Last month members of the District’s city council proposed legislation that will establish an independent ethics panel. Ward 4 Council Member, Muriel Bowser (D) has drafted ethics legislation that will set in place measures to curb the council’s ethical scandals.

This legislation comes on the hill of several allegations that have rocked the council since last year’s general election where Mayor Vince Gray (D) and Council Chair Kwame Brown won their respective seats, taking the two lead roles in city government. Namely, each has been involved in political scandal ranging from improper spending to unethical election procedures. However, they are not alone in ethical violations. Several other members of the council have faced ethical impropriety.

Bowser is the Chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee and her bill proposes setting up a three-member Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, where the board would monitor D.C. government leaders. The board would also allow for cuts in the amount of money Council Members can raise. Bowser has said that the independent board will focus solely on ethics issues, complementing the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) and the Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE).

The bill proposes a shift in responsibility from OCF to the independent ethics board beginning July 1, 2012, when the board will take over active OCF investigations. The bill will also reduce the constituent services fund from $80,000 to $40,000, setting limits on expenditures from those funds.

The board will have subpoena authority to investigate allegations of wrongdoing and if it finds a Council Member in violation, it can issue fines up to $5,000 per violation; and if it finds a substantial violation, it can recommend council censure, which could remove or suspend a Council Member from his or her committee and their ability to vote in any committee. This measure would allow the council to have a 72-hour window to decide if it will implement the panel’s recommendation.

Other measures the bill proposes include a $2,000 cap to the mayor and a $1,000 cap to the council’s chair. The bill would also allocate for 12 staff members for the new board.

Pieces left out of the legislation include term limits and the prohibition of political contributions by lobbyists.

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