By Serge F. Kovaleski
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 10, 2005
D.C. Council member Jack Evans has controlled the finances of a political action committee for the past 11 years, using it to make political contributions and reimburse himself thousands of dollars in entertainment and travel expenses while regulators believed that others were operating the fund.
Evans has written some checks, in 2004 and again this year, that bear the same account number as the PAC but display only his name and home address. Officials at the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, who have begun an audit to determine whether the PAC's operations violated D.C. laws or regulations, said they did not realize that Evans was directing the PAC's expenditures or that he was using personalized checks.
Evans acknowledged in an interview that he has played a principal role in deciding how the PAC's money should be spent. Campaign finance records show that it has taken in $223,245 and spent $206,264 since summer 1993.
"It was my view that I could write checks and direct the money because it was my PAC," said Evans (D-Ward 2). "That was the assumption I was operating under." Of the checks, he said, "I wrote them, for the most part."
Regulators said that because the PAC had a separate treasurer and chairman, as required by law, they did not know that Evans was in charge of the money. Late last month, after The Washington Post interviewed Evans about his handling of the fund, the PAC's chairman notified the campaign finance office that it was being shut down.
PACs are generally formed to help political candidates, parties and the causes they support. But a public official cannot use a PAC, as he would a campaign fund, to make expenditures that promote his candidacy.
Officials at the D.C. Campaign Finance Office said their audit will examine, among other issues, whether some of the reimbursements Evans received from the PAC were improper and should have been paid for instead by his campaign committee or his D.C. Council constituent-services fund.
"Based on our interpretation of the law, the public official should not exercise control with respect to the political action committee," said the District's campaign finance director, Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery. "And based on the records we have here, this office had no reason to think council member Evans was in control."
Evans, a lawyer and the council's president pro tempore, is head of the Finance and Revenue Committee and has filed papers with the campaign finance office to run for council chairman in 2006. Regulators said that based on their records, they know of no other PAC in the District that operates like Evans's.
Evans filed a statement of organization for the PAC in 1993, naming himself treasurer, chairman and custodian of records, according to campaign finance documents. Regulators said such oversight of a PAC by a public official is not in itself a violation. The issue for campaign finance officials is how that oversight is exercised and whether it compromises the PAC's independence in making decisions to spend money on the public official's behalf.
If the audit determines that regulations were broken, the PAC could face civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation.
In April 1994, Evans filled out resignation papers for the treasurer and chairman positions. Lawyers William N. Hall and Mark E. Grummer became chairman and treasurer, respectively, records show. The PAC then filed paperwork authorizing Evans to make withdrawals and payments, which the fund is permitted to do. But the PAC did not make him an officer of the fund or give him the power to oversee its money.
Records show that Evans used PAC funds to pay for meals and travel, either writing checks drawn on its bank account or using his own money and then getting reimbursed.
Spending reports that the PAC filed with the D.C. Campaign Finance Office list, for example, a $520 refund to Evans last year "for local travel to attend annual July 4th events." During a two-week period beginning Sept. 7, 2004, the PAC paid for meals at the Capital Grille, Brasserie Les Halles and Starland Cafe totaling $217.29, with each of the four meals listed as a "constituent lunch."
Records show that in April 2002, the PAC paid $342 for "airfare from vacation to attend the D.C. Marathon." The next month, it made a $625.50 payment for "airfare from vacation to attend the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick's Dinner." And on Sept. 24, 1997, the fund reimbursed Evans $434.06 for "business lunches." A day later, the PAC paid $750 for Davis Cup tennis tickets.
This past March, Evans was reimbursed $496.89 by the PAC to cover his airfare to return from a Florida vacation with his children to attend council budget meetings. In June, he refunded himself $363.13 for expenses incurred during a retail and shopping center convention in Las Vegas. And in July, he repaid himself $816.46 for expenses related to his trip to Major League Baseball's All-Star Game in Detroit, according to campaign finance records and Evans.
In an August letter, the campaign finance office requested more information from the PAC's treasurer about the "circumstances and authorization" of those three reimbursements.
"The council member should not have any direct involvement or coordination with expenditures made by a PAC," an auditor wrote to the fund's last treasurer of record, lawyer David S. Julyan.
In its response, the PAC said the trips were political in nature, related to District business and the kinds of expenses the fund was intended to cover. But neither Evans nor the PAC officers told the regulators that the council member had handled repayments himself.
Earlier this year, regulators questioned a $6,772.72 refund to Evans from the PAC for an official trip he took to Asia in October 2004 with Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and other District officials. The campaign finance office also inquired about the PAC paying for Evans's dues to the Democratic National Committee.
But after regulators received the PAC's response, the campaign finance office's general counsel wrote to Grummer on April 7: "It does not appear the expenditures were made at the direction or request of council member Evans."
The general counsel, Kathy S. Williams, said in an interview that had she known Evans was handling reimbursements, she would have immediately recommended a field audit of the fund. In the letter to Grummer, Williams noted that "during its formative years, the PAC was advised by OCF not to operate at the discretion and direction of council member Evans."
Evans said in an interview that neither he nor PAC officers told the regulators the extent to which he was using the PAC's checkbooks because "they never asked" and he believed that the fund was in compliance with District law.
In the letter to Grummer, Williams also suggested that the fund, then called JACK PAC, should change its name because contributors might think it was a campaign committee or a citizen services fund. This spring, the PAC filed documentation with regulators to change its name to the D.C. Fund.
Julyan, who replaced Grummer as treasurer, said he opened a new account for the PAC at SunTrust Bank in the summer. Personalized checks Evans was writing came from a Wachovia bank account that the PAC had been using.
Julyan said that only two checks were written from the SunTrust account before he resigned as treasurer in August to focus on his mediation practice and closed the account. Julyan said Evans was not authorized to sign checks on the new account. But the PAC never registered the SunTrust account with the campaign finance office, which it was required to do. Julyan said it was an administrative oversight.
Julyan said he wrote both of the checks to Evans as reimbursements. According to Julyan, one of the checks went toward season baseball tickets for the Washington Nationals. The other was for season tickets for the Washington Wizards. Julyan, who no longer has the records, said he did not remember the amounts of the checks. PAC records list a total expenditure of $14,060 on May 11 for season tickets for the Nationals and a $4,565 expenditure on March 11 for Wizards season tickets.
As for the PAC checks that bore his name and home address, Evans said that omitting the fund name was "an innocent mistake." He said he has written between 20 and 25 of those checks for such expenses as political contributions. He said that no PAC checks were ever used for personal expenses.
The council member said he had the personalized checks printed because mail sent to the post office box listed on other PAC checks and in campaign finance records was not being picked up. He said he thought it would be more efficient if the PAC's mail were sent to his residence. But the PAC did not subsequently list Evans's Georgetown address in its filings with the campaign finance office. Both Julyan and Hall said they were unaware of the personal checks.
Grummer, who stepped down as treasurer in April, would not comment about anything related to the PAC.
The political contributions Evans made with the personalized checks are listed in the PAC's spending reports as donations from the PAC. But the recipients record them as individual contributions from Evans. That was the case, for example, with a $1,000 check the councilman wrote to a Democratic slate committee in summer 2004.
In terms of its other spending, the PAC has made contributions to candidates and political organizations, including the D.C. Council campaign of Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), the Georgetown University College Democrats, Friends of Sen. Mary Landrieu and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, according to campaign finance records. The PAC's donors include developers, parking companies, lawyers and other firms and individuals who have contributed to various political campaigns in the District over the years, including Evans's.
Hall said that because the Office of Campaign Finance was reviewing the PAC's receipt and expenditure records, he never thought that Evans's involvement in the fund's finances was an issue.
"But it has now been made clear by OCF that the PAC needs to have a broader agenda than just the political activities of councilman Evans," said Hall, who is one of Evans's closest friends.
Evans asked for a Sept. 9 meeting with campaign finance officials to discuss their concerns. During the meeting, the regulators reiterated that he should maintain a distance from the operation of the PAC.
Hall then wrote a Sept. 29 letter to regulators in which he informed them that the PAC was closing down. Records show that an estimated $16,000 remains in the PAC account.
"The reason that the fund was originally formed was to support the non-campaign, non-constituent services, but nonetheless, political activities of council member Evans," he wrote. "OCF's position . . . leaves little point in the fund's continuation."
Hall also stated in the two-page document, "Full disclosure has been the primary characteristic underlying the fund's operations, and . . . we believe that we have consistently operated the fund in full compliance with the relevant guidelines and regulations."
Staff researchers Bobbye Pratt and Don Pohlman contributed to this report.