The Post’s View

Marion Barry, above the law?

THE MANUAL on ethics for D.C. government employees and officials is pretty easy to understand. “As a general rule, a District employee may not solicit or accept a gift from a ‘prohibited’ source.”

“A gift is a tip, favor, loan (except a bank loan given at the bank’s usual rate), entertainment, present, or anything else of value received from someone else.”

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“A ‘prohibited source’ is anyone who is regulated by the District government, or anyone who does, or is seeking to do, business with the District government through a contract, grant or other financial arrangement.”

There are exceptions — such as if the gift is less than $10 or from someone with whom there is a “bona fide personal relationship (like a grandmother).” Being Marion Barry (D) is not one of the listed exceptions. That, of course, is of no import to the Ward 8 council member and former mayor who long ago made clear he doesn’t think rules apply to him.

Mr. Barry, The Post’s Mike DeBonis disclosed, accepted nearly $7,000 in gifts from two city contractors, with some of the money going to pay for personal expenses. On recent financial disclosure forms filed with the city ethics board, Mr. Barry, on the advice of his attorney, reported receiving gifts worth $4,000 from F&L Construction and $2,800 from Forney Enterprises . Both do business with the city. Keith Forney, owner of Forney Enterprises, told the Associated Press that Mr. Barry approached him in early 2012 and asked him to help pay some bills. He said neither he nor his company received anything in return.

“My forms speak for themselves. . . . I don’t want to discuss it,” Mr. Barry told Mr. DeBonis. He hung up on the Associated Press after saying “goodbye” and didn’t respond to our request for comment. Frederick D. Cooke Jr., his attorney, told us the gifts were the result of long personal relationships and stressed they had nothing to do with anything Mr. Barry could or would do for these businesses. Mr. Cooke wouldn’t agree with our assessment that Mr. Barry nonetheless violated the rules, commenting “the law doesn’t operate in a vacuum . . . it is always contextual.”

We guess the context is that Mr. Barry thinks he can act with impunity; after all, he has retained office, influence and popularity despite his serial scrapes with the law and previous ethical transgressions. Mr. Cooke refused to comment on a report we received that the matter has been referred to ethics officials for investigation. We trust that they take seriously the rules of good government and hope they ensure there are consequences for those who don’t.

 
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