The D.C. Council on Wednesday questioned decisions by the city’s ethics and elections agencies following a year of scandals that resulted in an expensive special election and a disgraced former lawmaker using taxpayer dollars to fund his campaign despite owing the government money.
Council member Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, criticized the Office of Campaign Finance’s decision to allow former council member Jack Evans to participate in the Fair Elections Program even though he owes the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA) a fine of $20,000.
“Everything we do and every decision we make sets precedent for everything to come,” Mr. Allen said during Wednesday’s oversight hearing, noting that this is the program’s first year of operation.
The Fair Elections Program matches campaign donations of less than $50 at a rate of 5-to-1 to participating candidates who agree not to take donations from businesses or organizations.
Mr. Evans is running in the special election for the Ward 2 council seat he vacated last month when he resigned as his colleagues were preparing to expel him over his ethical lapses.
Mr. Allen expressed concern that “the precedent we are setting is you can have a massive unpaid BEGA fine, yet you can run using Fair Elections.”
William Sanford, general counsel for the Office of Campaign Finance, said Mr. Evans is eligible to participate in the program because he has until August to pay his BEGA fine and is up-to-date on other fines he owes.
Council member Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, said she is “puzzled” by the Board of Elections’ decision to schedule the special election on June 16, two weeks after the June 2 primary elections.
Board Chairman Michael Bennett said officials in his agency discussed this issue “ad nauseam” and settled on a date they thought would be the least confusing for voters.
Ms. Silverman said she understands that “there might be some confusion for non-party voters” if the special election were held on the same day as the primary. She noted several states that have scheduled special elections on the same day as a primary.
“I think that is far outweighed by the lack of turnout we are going to see for the Ward 2 special election,” she said.
Besides Mr. Evans, Democratic candidates John Fanning, Jordan Grossman, Daniel Hernandez, Patrick Kennedy, Kishan Putta and Yilin Zhang and Republican candidate Katherine Venice are vying for the Ward 2 seat.
Mr. Evans declined a request for comment.
His resignation came after a months-long investigation revealed that Mr. Evans had committed more than 30 violations of the conflict of interest provision of the council’s code of conduct and that he had used his position of the lawmaking body to benefit the clients of his private consulting firm.
Just days after his resignation took effect, Mr. Evans registered as a candidate for both the June 2 primary and the June 16 special election, which officials said will cost the city $200,000.
The 12 remaining council members condemned their former colleague’s decision to run in a joint statement.
“His decision to run for Ward 2 Council member again, which we do not and cannot support, shows a willful and arrogant disregard for ethics and is not in the best interests of the District,” Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, wrote in the statement.
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