Loose Lips Daily: All Ethics All the Time Edition
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Good morning Washington. Today's weather should be delightful with sunny skies and a high temperature in the upper 70s. But that dark ethics cloud that's currently hovering over the Wilson Building? That probably won't dissipate for at least the next few weeks and possibly months.
Yowza, where shall we start? How about the news that the Office of Campaign Finance is forwarding its complaint against Kwame Brown's 2008 campaign to the elections board? Nah, but we'll get to that eventually.
Let's start with Monday’s D.C. Council hearing on the pending ethics legislation? In testimony, D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan essentially told the council that the bill has major flaws and would create more structural confusion in how ethics investigations are carried out. The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis reports that Nathan would like to see the bill scrapped because "[a] new bureaucracy is not the answer to the District’s ethics problems." The attorney general would like his office strengthened, and have subpoena powers, something the D.C. Council stripped when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty's hard-fighting AG, Peter Nickles, was in control. Nathan's overall message to the council, per DeBonis: "Slow down, do this right."
After all, nobody seems particularly enthused about the proposed ethics reform package, introduced by Brown and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh. Cheh admits it's "not perfect...but it's a start." Some of the ideas in the legislation, apparently, came from Georgetown University grad students, which DCist's Martin Austermuhle quipped via Twitter: "If Kwame really got these #dcethics ideas from GU Public Policy grad students, they'd likely get some crappy grades from today's witnesses." Ouch.
At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, asserting some of his reclaimed Wilson Building gravitas, is planning on introducing his own ethics reform legislation, but one that specially addresses elected officials.
AFTER THE JUMP! More ethics. Plus, more ethics! Tattoos for Flag Day. And budget shifts!
Spectacle Averted: For those itching for more public hearings into the hiring practices of the Gray administration, Freeman Klopott of the Examiner has some bad news for you. They "are likely over after a judge ruled the potential last witness has the right not to respond to questions under the Fifth Amendment." That last witness was Peyton Brooks, the son of campaign consultant Howard Brooks, who also asserted his Fifth Amendment protections.
Oh Harry: Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. remains in hot water over the damning lawsuit Nathan filed last week related to Team Thomas. And the editorial page scribes at the Post seem intent on turning up the heat. "We are glad to focus attention on this issue, and — as has often been the case with Mr. Thomas — the facts differ from his explanations." Long story short, the Post thinks the Team Thomas mess deserves further scrutiny, but you probably already assumed that the Post’s editorial page, which deserves credit for its relentless, ongoing probe into the matter, wants more accountability. The editorial’s title pretty much sums it all up: "Can the U.S. Attorney’s office fill in the gaps on Mr. Thomas’ activities?"
The Times, too, continues to hammer on the embattled councilmember. If the Team Thomas situation hadn’t been brought to light, "nobody would have known that companies doing business with the D.C. government were donating to a lawmakers pet charity," Jim McElhatton writes, pointing to Comcast's donations to the councilmember’s "political and personal slush fund." "By contrast, in the federal government, donations from lobbyists or their clients to lawmakers’ charities are public and searchable online." Thomas has maintained that he will be vindicated when this is all through, but it’s causing other donors to review their giving. Continues the Times: "MedStar Health, which runs Washington Hospital Center in Mr. Thomas' council ward, told The Washington Times last week that it, too, received a solicitation from the council members office referring to a tax-exempt identification number. Children's National Medical Center said it was launching an internal inquiry to find out whether the contribution it made to Team Thomas was appropriate, as well as to find out whether the money went to charitable purposes."
Now, Let’s Not Forget About Kwame: As LL pointed out yesterday, in addition to Klopott and others, the chairman’s campaign finance troubles could be getting worse. The Office of Campaign Finance, per Klopott, "has taken the unusual step of referring to the board of elections a complaint against...Brown's 2008 campaign because," cue the drumroll, "the complaint raises questions about potential criminal activity."
Klopott lays out the roadmap: Because OCF doesn’t have the power to refer potential criminal activity to the U.S. attorney, it must turn to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics instead. If BOEE determines through hearings that there’s a case to be made that Brown’s campaign intentionally violated the law, then BOEE can go to the U.S. attorney. Sometimes LL feels there’s a need for a Schoolhouse Rock cartoon to map out the District’s special relationship with our federal overlords.
Recall Expands: This ethics cloud has caused Fredrick Butler's nascent recall effort to expand its scope. Per WJLA-TV's Mark Segraves, beyond Mayor Gray, both elected Browns on the council—Kwame and Michael—plus Ward 1's Jim Graham are on the list. Whether any of this will gain steam to power on, time will tell.
The View From Georgetown: The Georgetown Dish, like everyone else, is frustrated by the current state of affairs in D.C. politics, but especially with the Team Thomas allegations: "Part of the problem is that Mayor Vincent Gray, a friend of Thomas, has not spoken publicly about the repugnant and well-documented charges facing Thomas. The silence, to many ears, is deafening. This follows the Council-sponsored circus last week featuring fired Gray campaigner and staffer Sulaimon Brown, an ethics sore on the administration that continues to ooze. "It's not clear that the Mayor did anything wrong in the Sulaimon Brown case. But something happened. People need to know whether the Mayor countenanced or accepted money being handed out," says [WRC-TV's Tom] Sherwood. "Clarify whatever happened. You need to clear that stain away." Stains, suspects, resignations, investigations. What happens next? It is time for Mayor Gray to assert the moral authority of his person and his office and speak out on the Thomas matter. The Thomas charges are too destructive to the political health of the city to be without words of condemnation from our top leadership. Gray may need to call for Thomas to take a leave of absence from the Council—at least."
Our new theory: The Dish's anonymous pontificator, Georgetown Saucer, is actually Post editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao! Or is it Sally Quinn? (Put your guesses in comments!)
More Transparency: Examiner columnist Harry Jaffe wants members of the D.C. Council and the mayor to disclose their tax returns. "As I read the proposed new ethics reform law and listened to Monday's testimony, I wondered why our brave political leaders couldn't cut to the chase, keep it simple and do what the president does: make their tax returns public. Mayor Vince Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown talk transparency. Why not walk the walk and open up tax returns for public inspection?"
Did You Forget About the Budget? Never fear, the second vote on the budget nears! Finally some business that doesn't involve an ethical stain! When the council convenes this afternoon, a number of budget items that had been taken off the table may be back on, or off, depending on you slice it. Per Klopott, Cheh is planning on introducing an amendment that would hike income taxes on those making $400,000 or more "to help eliminate a retroactive tax on out-of-state municipal bonds." More on those out-of-state municipal bonds from The Washington Times' Tom Howell Jr.
Washington Business Journal's Mike Neibauer has been tracking shifts in the budget between the first and second votes and writes that the "D.C. Council must be convinced that a tidal wave of money is about to roll in. That's the only explanation for the latest draft of the fiscal 2012 Budget Support Act slated for its second and final council vote on Tuesday." How much money? $93.4 million.
Parking-meter fares are back in motion, too: "The only item dropped from the list was $3 million to reduce the cost of parking meters from 25 cents for 7.5 minutes to 25 cents for 15 minutes."
Wear Your D.C. Pride: If you have a tattoo of some form of the District of Columbia flag, like this, this, or this, get yourself down to Dupont Circle this evening to show your D.C. pride on Flag Day. Look! Bryan Weaver and Mike Panetta are in on the action. Hmmm, LL wonders what At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson might look like with a D.C. flag cranial tattoo…
Deep Thoughts: Should we care about D.C. officials who send their kids to private school?
Neighborhood Name Games: Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who is well known for lengthening the names of the Woodley Park-Zoo and U St-Cardozo Metrorail stations in his home ward, probably doesn’t agree with this…
Wishful Thinking: Former LL and D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute’s Elissa Silverman has a good thought: “[I]f DC's leadership is really taking us back to the bad old days, then I think my rent and homes for sale should go back to bad old days too.”
Words: Jim Graham may not know what "lugubrious" means.
March on Verizon! Speaking of taxes, activists will gather in Farragut Square at 5 p.m. and will march on a local Verizon store. Why? According to the activists' media advisory, Verizon Communication pays "ZERO taxes" and "used corporate tax loopholes to get $747 million in state and federal refunds!"
Mayor’s schedule: 11 a.m. dedication of the Washington Kastles tennis stadium on th Southwest waterfront with Billie Jean King! (Mayor Gray, don’t forget to remind Kastles owner Mark Ein to shovel his sidewalks!)
D.C. Council schedule: Fifteenth Additional Legislative Meeting, 1 p.m., Room 500, JAWB