Who gave D.C. Democrats the keys to city-owned buildings?

Monday, December 20, 2010; 8:52 PM

NO ONE WOULD think it okay for the Republican Party to hold a partisan candidates' debate in the Capitol rotunda. Democrats would know better than to use Dirksen office space to stuff party fundraising envelopes. The line between proper use of government resources and party politics is pretty clear. Except, it seems, in the District of Columbia.

Here, one-party rule has resulted in such coziness between government and party officials that the use of District facilities for partisan events apparently has become business as usual. Last week, for example, the D.C. Democratic State Committee held a forum in the old Council Chambers at the District-owned building at One Judiciary Square for candidates seeking an at-large city council seat soon to be vacant. The committee is charged under the D.C. charter with appointing a replacement for Kwame Brown (D) - elected chairman of the D.C. Council - until a special election is held in the spring. No one can quarrel with the desire to open up the process to the public - but in a government building? It's indefensible; D.C. law naturally prohibits the use of District government resources for campaign-related activities.

What's most troubling is that no one seems to bat an eye at the practice. How else to explain the brazenness of the party to showcase on its Web site a picture of members seated at a table in the John A. Wilson Building stuffing invitations to the party's annual Kennedys King Gala? A Democratic Party official said the party sought permission through proper government channels and that it's not unusual for the party to use public facilities.

The D.C. Republican Committee has finally taken umbrage at the practice and has filed a formal complaint with the Office of Campaign Finance. The agency will determine whether to launch a preliminary investigation. It shouldn't have to come to that; Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (D) and Mr. Brown should make clear that this misuse of government resources will end immediately.

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