Loose Lips

Numbers Don’t Lie: Where Constituent Service Fund Money Goes

Just how much moula goes flows from the constituent service funds directly to the needy? Not much, according to some number crunching done by the advocacy group D.C. for Democracy. The group combed through 2010 records and added up the total money spent by elected officials' constituent service funds on "immediate constituent needs" like rental and utility assistance and help with funeral costs. The results:

Councilmember Total Constituent Svcs Expenditures Amount Actually Spent on Constituent Needs % Actually Spent on Constituent Needs
Yvette Alexander $49,939 $1,007 2%
Marion Barry $14,463 $3,607 25%
Muriel Bowser $35,713 $2,336 7%
Kwame Brown $7.354 $816 8%
Michael Brown $49,951 $4,793 10%
David Catania $14,932 $1,855 12%
Mary Cheh $34,686 $476 1%
Jack Evans $85,381 $3,286 4%
Jim Graham $48,713 $11,988 25%
Vince Gray $50,508 $14,235 28%
Phil Mendelson $3,751 $455 12%
Harry Thomas, Jr $6,259 $768 12%
Tommy Wells $8,299 $2,649 32%

Next, the group broke down how much lawmakers spent giving to community groups (including non-profits and political groups) and how much was spent on "other." That last category includes "office supplies, computer expenses, printing, catering & refreshments and local travel; also for breakfast meetings of councilmembers, for Deer Park water and to pay for season tickets to DC professional sports teams."

As you can see below, some councilmembers are spending nearly all their money on "other."

Councilmember Total Constituent Svcs Expenditures % Spent on Constituent Needs % Spent on Community Events/Orgs % Spent on Other Kinds of Expenditures
Yvette Alexander $49,939 2% 11% 87%
Marion Barry $14,463 25% 35% 40%
Muriel Bowser $35,713 7% 14% 79%
Kwame Brown $7,354 11% 8% 81%
Michael Brown $49,951 10% 22% 68%
David Catania $14,932 12% 77% 11%
Mary Cheh $34,686 1% 18% 81%
Jack Evans $85,381 4% 21% 75%
Jim Graham $48,713 25% 20% 55%
Vince Gray $50,508 28% 42% 30%
Phil Mendelson $3,751 12% 48% 40%
Harry Thomas, Jr $6,259 12% 29% 59%
Tommy Wells $8,299 32% 45% 23%

The takeaway, according to D.C. for Democracy, is that these funds need to be eliminated rather than tweeked, as Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser has proposed in her ethics legislation. "The quite limited amounts spent on hardship cases handled by these funds—less than $50,000 for all councilmembers’ CSF’s—suggests that there must be a better way to handle them, perhaps in the executive branch through a central office with the ability to access city-wide public and private resources to service them."

Tables courtesy of D.C. for Democracy

  • Keith B.

    Damn, Jack's a miser! Wonder how I can get in on some of those "other" expenditures before I get gerrymandered into Ward 3?

  • RepoMan

    Where in the hell is the "Occupy the Wilson Building" so I can join the protest? This is outrageous-- we have 8 of the 13 councilmembers spending more than 50% of their constituent fund dollars on everything except their constituents.

    During this economic crisis and unrest amongst the 99% due to politicians spoon feeding the 1% while disregarding their constituents, we have 10 of our 13 "illustrious" councilmembers spending less that 25% of their constituent fund on the constituents.

    This is shameful!

  • Charlie

    "The other category of expenditures may primarily benefit the councilmember and staff rather constituents. This includes spending spending on office supplies, computer expenses, printing, local travel and large amounts for catering and refreshments, of which an unknown amount may be for community events. Constituent funds were also used for Council breakfast meetings, for bottled water for their offices, and even to pay for season tickets costing $28,000 to four professional sports teams."

    It seems to me that most expenditures (except the sports tickets) probably go to what would be called petty cash in an office environment. A little perk like buying bottled water to give to your employees doesn't cost a whole lot and it helps promote employee satisfaction. (My employer gave a selection of free coffees and teas to employees. A free pastries once a week when they had a morning meeting and free lunch when they had meetings in the conference room that lasted all day.) It might promote more transparency if they just increased the money they provided for staff expenses, but it would cost the taxpayers more money rather than coming from donations.

    I am sure the category "assist community organizations and to sponsor or support community events" includes things like when my council member comes to the annual fundraiser for the friends of the parks group in my ward. I am sure the group is delighted to have the councilmember and the guests like to smooze with their representative and are more likely to attend knowing she is there. I am not that concerned that the money she provides to the community group comes from the constituent services fund. I sure DC for Democracy would like the councilmembers to come to their events.

    This report doesn't concern me very much.

  • DCCommish

    This schedule is a whole bunch of crap. The devil is in the details and there isn't much here. They leave out alot that has gone to the community and use thier judgement on what is considered "constituents" It's typical bullshit hitting the papers to sell papers not tell the true story!

  • http://iamdcdg.com David Gaines

    How are the amounts available to the CMs determined? Bowser's quote sounds like each CM gets $50k, but Evans has already spent $85k? And if each CM has up to $50k, what happens to the remaining monies still available if not used before the end of the FY?

    I don't understand how any CM can spend up to 87% (actually anything more than 25%) on "office supplies, computer expenses, printing, catering & refreshments and local travel; also for breakfast meetings of councilmembers, for Deer Park water and to pay for season tickets to DC professional sports teams" as opposed to actual constituents or events that benefit the constituents. Aren't there water coolers in the Wilson Building? Do they really spend that much on office supplies?

    Considering their salaries (2nd highest in the country I believe) and the option to maintain other jobs paying even more, would it be too much to ask them to pay for their own breakfasts?

    I'm not mad at them considering it is their at their discretion but somewhere along the way I'm confused of what this money is for and why it's not spent more on constituents.

    Just curious.

  • Head in the sand

    I always liked the idea that these funds existed because it would be nice that an average citizen, who needed a few dollars to pay rent, a deposit, buy food or pay a fee for their child to have a tutor could go to a member of the Council and actually get help. Looks like that was an illusion.
    DCCommish and Charlie can look the other way, but the constituent service fund is supposed to be used 100% for CONSTITUENTS, not office expenses, soprts tickets or paying to attend community events.
    When you and I go to a community event that has a cost, WE HAVE TO PAY FOR IT. The DC City Council members make:
    District of Columbia: $130,538 Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts Philadelphia Research Initiative.
    If a Councilmember wants to attend an event that costs something they can pay for it themselves or ask for a comp ticket(and report it!). Also, there is no "overhead" for these funds since the staff of the councilmember is already paid by DC taxpayers.
    DCCommish; I hope that each and every Council Member listens to you and publishes a detailed report of 1.) Their donors and 2.) Detailed itemized expenditures to refute this disturbing report.

  • DCCommish

    @Headinthesand...well the next time you go to an event and it costs 4 times as much, you'll remember the CS funds that are used to support those events. As for the sports tickets (I'm not a fan of professional sports period)but if they are used for a raffle, door prize or way of getting people to the community event then it's fine by me. As for the reports...the info is at OCF and should explain all the details, if not it should not be accepted by OCF as a completed report.

  • Truth hurts

    These slush funds have been abused for years. They mainly help keep the incumbents in office. Alexander wins the "looking out for
    e first" award.

  • Ronnie

    OCF reporting is crap and slants any reporting on these funds. Central office for need-based sounds great. I've said to use it for community groups and leadership training, but maybe getting rid of it at this point is best. Too much baggage.

  • cminus

    I would like to congratulate the four Councilmembers who set a good example and spent a majority of their constituent service funds on constituent services and community events rather than office luxuries and tickets to sporting events.

    They are: Marion Barry, David Catania, Vince Gray, and Tommy Wells.

    I'm pretty sure this makes me the first City Paper commenter ever to say something nice about two of those Councilmembers without cheering for the ouster of the other two.

  • NE John

    little piglet cheh

  • Truth hurts

    It's sad indeed when four (actually five counting Mendo) of thirteen elected officials receive "congratulations" for ostensibly complying with the law more than 50% of the time. What a city!

  • just sayin

    Not surprisingly the reformist who led the charge on this bill is also among those whose fund did the least for constituents. That this ISN'T a surprise is a very sad testament on what we've come to expect from this city's leadership.

  • trulee_pist

    Big pig Yvette Alexander

  • John

    These funds should be discontinued as they are clearly abused. When you raise funds saying they will help needy constiuents and then use them for some other purpose it is called fraud. Cheh is a disaster as she doesn't listen to her constiuents she can't find any needy constiuents.

  • Mr. Remember

    Yeah, the Four Tops as in Wells, Gray, Graham and Barry did a good thing.

  • MadWard7Resident

    trulee_pist.....you are so funny! She is Ms. Piggy!
    Her feet look likes pig feet!
    Anyhoo...she needs to go!

  • La esquina

    I've long felt these Constituent Service funds should be completely eliminated. They're unregulated $$$ that comes from regular donors, but without the federal limits. No oversight+ unlimited donations (something like $60k a year max these Members can raise) are iffy enough until you consider that both of the major utilities (water and electric) offer amnesty programs. Pepco will turn your lights back on TWICE. First, they pay the bill in full, then they'll put the lights back on after the power is cut. WASA has a fund for overdue water bills. People could easily donate to that fund like they do constituent service funds...

    Funding for community events and groups makes sense. I like to see the Councilmembers sponsor floats at local parades and such. But these events are free publicity and should be funded by a CAMPAIGN treasury, not a Constituent Services fund.

    As for water coolers, office pizza, tickets, etc, I don't buy into that BS that these are "freebies" for constituents. All of the major DC venues give the Council (and Mayor) dozens of free tickets to events, including tickets to the Council and Mayors boxes at Nats stadium and the Verizon Center. THESE are the tickets that are given away to constituents...and they're free to the Council (and Mayor). Constituent Service fund tickets are used for high end lobbyists and donors, NOT for kids in need. Don't get it twisted.

  • InItToWinIt

    Goodbye Yvette, the most highly ineffective Council representative on the dais.

    I've voting for Chaveous.

  • Southeast Ken

    @InItToWinIt; I agree, it's time for pigs feet to go.

  • RepoMan

    La esquina,

    You are absolutely correct!

  • OllieSeymore

    @ InItToWinIt and Southeast Ken,

    Old Yvette Alexander is a crook and fool! She has not help the needy residents of WARD 7. I can not wait until
    April 2012....she will not be getting my vote and nor will be Lil Kevin C.

    Ms. Piggy has to go.......

    It is sad the see the numbers from all the council members; none of them really helped the at need residents of Washington, DC.

  • http://www.keithjarrell2012.com Keith Jarrell

    Bowser clearly cares little for her constituents given only 7% of her funds have actually gone to help out those in need. She should be assamed of her self.
    Three families burned out last summer and she has done nothing to reach out to them to help. It is clear that she cares for no one.