The bill, which follows a months-long effort to rewrite city ethics laws, also bolsters financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest laws and slashes by 50 percent what council members can raise for constituent service funds.
“We have been very serious about ethics reform, and I think the bill reflects that,” said Muriel D. Bowser (D-Ward 4), head of the Government Operations Committee.
With the council rushing to complete several pieces of legislation before the end of the year, it also approved tougher employment requirements for city contractors, agreed to name a new $15 million library after late activist and school board member William O. Lockridge, and voted to reduce the number of mayoral appointees.
But the ethics debate dominated the discussion, prompting several unusually personal exchanges among members struggling to respond to a string of controversies involving elected officials.
On Friday, the FBI and IRS raided the home of council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) after allegations by D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan that Thomas diverted $300,000 in city money for his personal use.
Although a majority of his colleagues have suggested that he take a paid leave of absence until the federal investigation is over, Thomas attended Tuesday’s meeting.
A throng of reporters and cameramen greeted him when he walked into the chamber. “I can’t have any comment,” Thomas told them.
Thomas co-sponsored several pieces of legislation but made no comments during the ethics debate, although he supported the bill.
The ethics measure, a priority of D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), will create a three-member Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to police elected officials’ conduct. If the board determines there is a violation, it could issue fines of as much as $5,000 an instance. The city’s attorney general would also be able to prosecute local political-corruption cases. Those convicted could face up to a year in prison or a $25,000 fine.
But council members are divided on several aspects of the legislation. During the next two weeks, they are expected to meet behind closed doors to fashion a final version of the measure.
On Tuesday, Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) unsuccessfully tried to persuade his colleagues to ban the bundling of campaign contributions and prohibit city contractors from contributing to political campaigns.
“I can think of no greater obvious conflict of interest than where you approve their contract and then say, ‘I think it’s time to give to my campaign,’ ” Wells said.