It’s a rainy fall evening and Evans is at Our Lady, Queen of the Americas Catholic Church in Sheridan-Kalorama for an ANC meeting. The small group of gray hairs listens to Evans’ update on city life before asking him about parking and road paving. Then one man asks about the council’s ethics problems.
“Enough already,” the man says. “We’re tired of the SUVs and we’re tired of all of it. Tired of it.”
Evans agrees. “It’s an embarrassment,” he says.
Evans gives a brief rundown of the three elected officials currently under federal investigation. Brown’s 2008 campaign can’t account for $170,000 it paid to Brown’s brother, and the chairman also had to return a taxpayer-funded Lincoln Navigator whose $2,000-a-month price tag caused an uproar. Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. agreed to pay back the city $300,000 after being sued for allegedly using a city earmark for “youth baseball” to buy an Audi SUV and golf outings. And Gray has been accused of promising a minor mayoral candidate a city job in exchange for help on last year’s campaign trail.
“I can’t pass a law saying you have to elect honest people,” says Evans, getting himself slightly worked up.
“What are in God’s name are my colleagues doing renting SUVs? Fully loaded—why were they doing that?” Evans says “The mayor’s still driving in one. I don’t know. Why are you still driving around in one of those? I don’t know....I’m serving on the worst [council] right now. I’ve never seen more ridiculousness, more investigation, more self-servingness.”
But Evans’ tough talk doesn’t match his legislative record. Over his 20 years, he’s pushed for balanced budgets, but done little in the way of enacting new restrictions on political influence—a place where his legislative skills would come in handy. Though he vents before supportive community groups, he hasn’t joined the trio of colleagues who recently stuck their necks out to demand Thomas’ resignation. In the current discussion on how to clean up city politics, Evans hasn’t exactly been out front. His sole contribution was speaking up at a meeting to suggest stiffer penalties for pols who fail to disclose required information.
Evans’ own history, though, shows he has a warped sense of what ought to be disclosed. While he calls for tougher enforcement of existing laws, he also seems perfectly happy with what they do—and don’t—prohibit.
Evans’ biggest bloody nose came in 2005, when the city press corps started asking about an Evans-controlled political action committee. “Jack PAC” legally accepted unlimited donations from some of the city’s most connected lobbyists, developers, and business types. A billboard company that benefited from Evans-sponsored legislation gave $10,000.
It turned out PAC expenditures included $816.46 to travel to a baseball all-star game, meals at Café Milano, and $12,960 for first-row Washington Nationals season tickets, among other entertainments. The Office of Campaign Finance found accounting irregularities, though nothing rose to the level of an illegal or even finable offense. But legally compliant and ethically sound aren’t always the same thing, and Evans did not handle the extra attention well. In fact, he made matters worse by initially withholding information from reporters and regulators.
When asked about a $6,772.72 charge the PAC reported as “expenses incurred during China delegation trip,” Evans initially told the Post that the money covered his expenses on a trip to Asia with several elected officials. But after then-Council Chairman Linda Cropp revealed that the trip was paid for by tax dollars, Evans disclosed that PAC money actually paid for the travel expenses of his friend Marsha Ralls, a former beauty queen and Georgetown art gallery owner. Evans and the PAC initially argued that there was nothing improper about a PAC paying Ralls’ way. Eventually, he paid for her trip out of his own pocket.
Another revelation during the kerfuffle: Evans and his PAC said that there was no list of the “activists, advocates, opinion makers, and leaders in citywide politics and business” who he had taken to Nationals games. When OCF indicated that this meant Evans would have to pay for the season tickets himself, a list was provided.
If the whole episode proved embarrassing, it didn’t necessarily teach him a lesson. City records show that after the PAC was shut down, Evans began using his constituent service fund—which also raises money from private sources—to again buy premium season tickets. And not just for traditional sports, either: Evans also dropped $5,300 for what appears to be four tickets at a VIP table for 16 Washington Kastles tennis matches last season. The sports spending turned into great fodder for a Post story earlier this year, which calculated that Evans had spent nearly $140,000 of someone else’s money over the past decade on sports tickets.
Evans said his personal use of the tickets is “de minimus” and that the fund had never turned down requests from needy residents.
It’s instructive to imagine what would happen if the Jack PAC story came to light today, when worries about ethics dominate city political chatter. Granted, there’s a big difference between Jack PAC and the troubles of Thomas and Brown, But the same sense of entitlement prevails, even if no one is accused of illegality.
Then there’s the matter of Evans’ dual role as a councilmember and as a lawyer at Patton Boggs, D.C.’s most influential lobbying firms. His critics wonder what Evans does to earn the $190,000 annual salary the firm pays him. Evans says he does securities-related work, and the workload varies. He adds that Patton Boggs is a civic-oriented firm and doesn’t begrudge his time spent as a councilmember.
But the most recent scrum involving Evans’ outside employment led to questions about whether he’s fully complied with city law. Evans recused himself in 2009 from voting on a $272 million city financing package for a hotel next to the convention center. City law requires that officials file a written explanation of recusals. Evans never did.
The D.C. Council’s attorney cleared Evans of wrongdoing based on Evans’ claim that Patton Boggs had no connection to Marriott, which will operate the hotel. When Evans made the attorney’s memo public, I asked if Patton Boggs had any connection to the two developers involved in the deal. He said no.
But a few days later, I was sent an email written by a former Evans aide in 2009 explaining that Evans rescued himself from the convention center votes because Patton Boggs represented ING, a real estate investment firm that helped finance the deal. When I went to Evans for an explanation, he acted as if there was nothing to explain. “There’s no connection between ING and the city,” he said, then declined to answer any more questions.
Evans was similarly tight-lipped when I asked about why his outside income dropped from $240,000 during the previous four years to $190,000 last year. Had he gotten a pay cut? No. Evans would only say that Patton Boggs has always paid him $190,000. He wouldn’t indicate where the extra $50,000 had been coming from.
When pressed, Evans said he was following city law. “It doesn’t require that to be disclosed,” he says. “That’s my answer.”