D.C. Council will start reporting tickets, other gifts


D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and his chief lawyer says D.C. lawmakers need to do a better job disclosing gifts. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

District legislators in the coming weeks will start making a more thorough and public effort to disclose gifts, including invitations to top-dollar banquets and other events.

The D.C. Council’s top lawyer, V. David Zvenyach, told lawmakers at a breakfast meeting Tuesday that council rules passed last year required them to disclose all gifts in excess of $50, including tickets to events they might consider part of their council duties.

Monthly disclosures, he said, would be made to the legislature’s Office of the General Counsel and eventually be posted on the council Web site. “My hope is that we’re going to get really good [at disclosing gifts] in June, and we’ll start posting these things in July,” Zvenyach said Tuesday.

The council’s public disclosure of gifts has historically been spotty at best. In the most recent round of personal financial disclosures, which were due last month, only Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) indicated that they had received gifts in 2012. Mendelson reported accepting tickets to seven dinners, ranging in value from $105 to $300, plus Ringling Brothers circus tickets worth $236. Barry reported taking gifts from two construction firms, Forney Enterprises Inc. and F&L Construction, totaling $6,800.

“I’ve probably been negligent. I haven’t reported anything,” said Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) after Zvenyach’s briefing.

The suggestion Tuesday that members need to do a more thorough job reporting their gifts — including items they might not consider personal gifts — encountered some resistance. About event tickets, Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said, “I consider them a donation to the council.” Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) suggested that the value of those gifts might not match the ticket price: “It can be like a $600 ticket, but you just show up and shake some hands” without actually eating dinner.

Mendelson urged his colleagues to err on the side of full disclosure. “If you do that, you are off the hook,” he said.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | June 4, 2013