Evans's Defense of Spending at Odds With PAC Records
Sunday, November 13, 2005
In a newsletter last month defending his use of a political action committee, D.C. Council member Jack Evans said the fund covered political expenses that were not related to his constituent-services program.
But in records filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, the PAC has reported spending a total of $12,103 on items it described as constituent meals or constituent entertainment. The reports, which go back nearly 12 years, list 41 constituent breakfasts, lunches, dinners or events at some of Washington's finest restaurants and at the exclusive University Club. PAC documents make the distinction between those expenditures and others it labeled as "business" meals and, in other cases, a "political dinner" and a "council member lunch."
The campaign finance office began last month to conduct an audit of the D.C. Fund, formerly known as the Jack PAC. One of the issues that regulators are studying is whether some of the expenses the PAC covered should have been paid for by Evans's constituent-services fund.
Each of the District's 13 council members is allowed to set up a constituent-services fund and to spend up to $40,000 a year from the account. The funds are designed to foster interaction between public officials and citizens and to provide needy residents with financial assistance for matters such as delinquent utility and rent bills and burials of loved ones.
PACs generally are formed to help political candidates, parties and the causes they support. Public officials are allowed to set up and oversee PACs. But if an elected official becomes directly involved in a PAC's decisions to spend money on his behalf and uses the PAC to supplement his campaign committee or constituent-services fund, he runs the risk of violating the city's campaign finance laws, according to officials with the campaign finance office.
Evans (D-Ward 2), a lawyer who has filed to run for council chairman next year, did not return a call or respond to an e-mail seeking comment about the constituent meals itemized on the PAC's records. The PAC's longtime chairman, lawyer William N. Hall, declined to comment, as did lawyer Mark E. Grummer, a former treasurer for the fund.
N. William Jarvis, an attorney for the PAC, said that Evans, Hall and Grummer have decided not to speak to the press about the fund while regulators conduct their audit.
Evans acknowledged in an interview in September that he had played a leading role in deciding how the PAC's money should be spent. He said that he assumed his role was in compliance with District laws and that regulators did not tell him otherwise. Officials with the campaign finance agency have said that because the PAC had a separate treasurer and chairman, as required by law, they did not realize that Evans was directing the fund's finances.
On Sept. 29, after Evans was interviewed by a reporter about his handling of the fund, PAC officials notified the campaign finance office that the fund was being shut down.
Records show that since establishing the PAC in 1993, Evans has used it to reimburse himself thousands of dollars in entertainment and travel expenses and to make political contributions. The campaign finance office's audit is looking at whether any of the reimbursements were improper. If the audit determines that regulations were broken, the PAC could face civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation.
Although $12,103 was spent on items that were listed as constituent meals and events, the meals that were described as "business," "political" or "council member lunch" totaled $1,792, according to the spending records.
In his Oct. 14 newsletter, Evans wrote, "I have used a political action committee . . . to support Democratic candidates and good causes, and to cover political expenses of mine that are not related to a campaign or to constituent services, and are not appropriate to charge to taxpayers." The posting has since been taken down from Evans's council Web site.
Records show that in all, the PAC has taken in $223,245 and spent $206,264 since 1993. The spending included contributions to various local and national candidates and political organizations. In April, the general counsel for the campaign finance office warned the PAC in a letter that it could run afoul of District law if its funds were controlled by a public official and spent in a manner similar to the official's constituent-services program.
But the PAC's files at the campaign finance office do not contain any letters from regulators requesting more information about the expenditures it has listed as constituent meals for many years. Last week, officials at the campaign finance office said they could not comment because of the agency's ongoing audit of the PAC.
The $40,000 annual limit on the amount that each council member can raise or spend for the constituent-services program is designed in part to ensure that no member has an advantage over the others in currying favor with the electorate, according to campaign finance officials.
Records show that over the past several years, Evans has spent all or nearly all of the $40,000 maximum. He came within $36 of the spending limit in 2002 and within $572 in 2004, while in 2003 he exceeded the cap by $98. This year, Evans's constituent-services program has spent $34,786 through the end of September, according to the filings. Records on Evans's constituent-services fund that are available at the offices of the campaign finance agency do not go back further than 2002. Since then, the constituent-services fund has paid $1,528 for 23 constituent meals and events, according to campaign finance records.
Besides paying for expenses labeled as constituent meals and constituent events, Evans's PAC has made other expenditures on items that, judging from the records filed by other council members, are typically covered by constituent-service funds. For instance, the PAC lists an $800 payment in July 2004 for "sponsorship of annual youth bus trip." And in 1995, the PAC paid $750 for "senior citizen transportation 12/13/95 holiday event." The same year, the PAC recorded $421 in expenses for "constituent flowers."
Records also show that Evans used the PAC and the constituent-services fund interchangeably for some expenses. For years, he used the PAC to pay for his membership dues to the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. But the constituent-services fund covered the $950 dues payment in 2004, as well as the $1,100 in dues for 2005.
This year, the PAC paid $4,565 for Washington Wizards season tickets. In prior years, Evans had paid for the basketball tickets out of his constituent-services program.