Records show Evans paid $135,897 for sports tickets from constituent fund

D.C. Council member Jack Evans has paid $135,897 for professional sports tickets over the past decade using money from his constituent services fund, renewing calls for tighter restrictions on the accounts, which are meant to help city residents.

A Washington Post review of Office of Campaign Finance records show that Evans (D-Ward 2) has spent $437,720 since January 2002 under the program, which allows District politicians to raise money to help constituents and spend the funds largely unfettered.

Local elected officials have said that they use the funds — also known as citizen service programs — to help needy constituents with rent and utility bills as well as unexpected expenses, such as funerals.

The records show that Evans spent $135,897 — about 31 percent of his total spending during the period — on tickets to the Washington Nationals, Washington Wizards, Washington Kastles and through the Washington Sports and Entertainment organization. By comparison, The Post identified $101,564 that Evans directed toward charitable organizations, neighborhood associations, arts groups or charitable activities, such as buying trophies for Little League teams.

Evans defended the spending. He said that he has bought season tickets to athletic events for years to help local sports franchises and that he gives away most of the tickets to Ward 2 residents and local schools and charities.

“I think it’s appropriate to support those teams and give [tickets] to constituents who otherwise may not be able to get to a game,” said Evans, who will seek a sixth term next year.

When the fund is examined back to 1991, when Evans was elected to the council, he notes that only 13 percent of the $1 million he has spent has gone toward sporting tickets. He said that 20-year period provided a more accurate picture of his spending. It appears that Evans used the fund minimally for ticket purchases in his first decade in office.

Under D.C. regulations, constituent services funds may be established to offer “charitable, scientific, educational, medical, recreational and other services” to promote residents’ “general welfare.” But the law does not detail what is considered an acceptable expenditure, except to prohibit the funds from being used for political purposes.

The mayor and council members can raise up to $80,000 for the fund each year, but individual donations are capped at $500 per year. Elected officials can transfer unspent campaign money to the accounts.

Evans, who led the effort on financing Nationals Park to lure professional baseball back to the District in 2005, said that he uses the fund to buy one season ticket to Wizards games at Verizon Center and another for Capitals games. He also has bought two season tickets for games at Nationals Park since it opened in 2008.

On March 1, for example, Evans wrote a check for $4,681 for a season ticket to the Capitals. Two days later, he paid the Wizards $7,644. His two 2011 season tickets at Nationals Park, which he said are behind first base, cost him $10,945 last fall, the records show.

Although Evans said his expenditures are “perfectly legal,” some colleagues and community leaders were surprised by the amount spent on sports tickets.

“I think it’s inappropriate,” said council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who is looking into whether new restrictions on the accounts are needed. “We have to figure out what is the public purpose of these funds.”

Evans, who also has access to luxury boxes reserved for council members at Verizon Center and Nationals Park, said that he rarely uses his season tickets. “I’ve been to, like, two Nationals games all year,” he said. “Very seldom do we not give them away.”

Evans represents one of the city’s wealthiest wards, which includes Georgetown, Dupont and Logan circles, downtown and Foggy Bottom. But there are also pockets of poverty in Ward 2, especially in Shaw.

Alexander M. Padro, a longtime community leader who chairs the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in Shaw, said that Evans has helped some constituents pay bills over the years but that he had not heard of tickets to athletic events being available.

“I have never gotten a call saying, ‘Hey, can we send a couple of your kids to the Nationals game?’ ” Padro said. “It would be interesting to see who’s going to all of these events.”

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to track who used the tickets over the years. Campaign finance laws do not require officials to report ticket recipients, though Evans said he has voluntarily submitted some names to the OCF since the fall.

Wesley Williams, an OCF spokesman, said his office asked Evans for documentation of the use of the tickets last fall after agency officials questioned the purchases on his quarterly filing report.

Evans initially declined to share a list of recipients with The Post, saying that the tickets are funded with private donations. But Evans later made available a “representative list” of people he said have received tickets since the fall. The list includes names of about 70 individuals or organizations, including constituents, Wilson High School, DC Vote and “ANC Commissioners.”

In 2005-06, Evans faced scrutiny about the use of political contributions through his political action committee. Evans closed his Jack’s PAC after The Post reported that he had used funds to reimburse himself for entertainment and travel expenses. A subsequent OCF investigation determined that Evans broke no laws.

The review of Evans’s constituent services fund shows hundreds of donations since 2002 to charitable and civic organizations, such as the D.C. Police Foundation, the Citizens Association of Georgetown, the Capital Pride Festival, and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington.

“We don’t turn people away,” said Schannette Grant, who is Evans’s chief of staff and oversees the fund. “Basically, when people call, we give them money. We help as many people as we possibly can.”

The Post identified $2,941 in payments to Pepco, D.C. Water and Washington Gas since 2001 to cover constituent utility bills.

An additional $6,251 went to Deer Park and Jordan Springs for water, records show. Evans said the water is provided to staff and constituents in his office, allowing him to not pay for it out of his taxpayer-funded council account.

The fund also paid $3,192 to the D.C. treasurer. Evans and Grant said much of that amount was for office parking tickets.

“Sometimes, we will go to a community event at night and park at a meter where it’s only good two hours,” Grant said. “That would be a work . . . expense.”

Asher Corson, president of the Foggy Bottom Community Association, said Evans should be more focused on the “tremendous needs in the ward” instead of using the fund for season tickets.

“If he is using the money to buy those tickets, they haven’t been passed along to my constituents,” Corson said. “We have a lot of community groups going up against pretty big challenges and can use more support.”

But Lenore Rubino, president of the Burleith Citizens Association, said she has seen e-mails from Evans or his staff offering “tickets to the community.”

“He’s helped us out with any number of issues that we’ve had,” said Rubino, who added that Evans has a long record of constituent service.

Evans’s ticket purchases and the recent questions about how council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) had used her fund may lead the council to debate new restrictions in the fall, including whether the $80,000 annual limit should be reduced.

“I don’t know what is legitimate, but I think we are trying to do too much,” said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3).

craigt@washpost.com

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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