The D.C. council will consider broad legislation that would establish an independent ethics panel, as well as slash by half the amount of money council members can raise to help constituents.
After weeks of deliberations, Council member Muriel D. Bowser (D-Ward 4) has developed draft legislation that seeks to streamline 10 separate reform proposals that have been introduced by members in the aftermath of several ethics controversies. While there is no guarantee that it will be approved, Bowser’s proposal becomes the dominant piece of ethics reform that will be considered by the body next month.
According to the proposal, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, Bowser has decided against several headline-grabbing proposals, including an effort to impose term-limits, or prohibit lobbyists from making political contributions.
But Bowser, the chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, wants to set up a three-member Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. The proposal would take over responsibility for policing District government leaders, removing a key element of the current Board of Election and Ethics’s portfolio.
The new board, which could have up to a dozen staffers, would have subpoena authority to investigate allegations of wrongdoing, including those involving an expanded code of ethics.
If the board finds a violation, it can issue fines of up $5,000 per violation.
If the board finds a substantial violation, it can recommend that the council censure, remove or suspend a member’s committee membership and ability to vote in any committee. The council would have 72 hours to decide whether it wants to implement the panel’s recommendation.
Other aspects of legislation appear designed to respond to several recent controversies involving members.
The legislation would prohibit lobbyists from offering discounted legal advice to council members, and sets limits on how much the mayor and council chairman can accept from donors for transition and inaugural committees. Currently, those committees are not subject to same limits imposed on election committees.
The bill also cuts by half the amount that council members can raise for constituent service funds. Currently, council members can raise up to $80,000 per year for the funds, but Bowser is proposing a $40,000 annual limit. The legislation also limits what the funds can be used, including banning members from using the money for season tickets to sporting events or any newspaper advertisements.
Although council members under investigation will be allowed to set up legal defense funds, the bill would cap each donation at $5,000. Members will also face more stringent requirements for disclosing outside sources of revenue.
Here is the draft bill Bowser circulated with her colleagues Friday: