The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is seeking to determine whether three City Council members violated the city's conflict-of-interest laws when they voted to allow city officials to serve as delegates to next year's constitutional convention.
Within weeks after voting for the legislation, the three council members -- Hilda Mason, (Statehood-At Large), David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1) and Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At Large)-- filed to run as candidates to the statehood convention. Under last fall's voter-approved statehood initiative, elected and appointed officials had been prohibited from serving as convention delegates.
"I haven't found anywhere where members of the council said they personally intended to run as delegates when they voted on the amendment," said Lindell Tinsley, acting director of the Office of Campaign Finance, who recently instructed his staff to investigate the matter. "Yet the law says that council members should disclose whenever they vote on anything in which they might have financial or personal gain."
The council members bitterly criticized Tinsley for raising the matter, insisting that city law exempts votes on election laws from its definition of conflict of interest. "This is an absurdity," Clarke said.
Albert Beveridge, chairman of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, which must rule on any findings by Tinsley, said the council members' actions "raise serious questions." He noted that, if they are elected as delegates, they would earn $30 a day over the 90-day life of the convention.
"It's called double-dipping," Beveridge said. "In effect, they were voting themselves an extra $30 a day. That offends me. I don't think council members should be paid $30 a day in addition to the council salaries."
Beveridge also noted that a separate city law forbids council members from holding any other "public office . . . for which he is compensated in amount in excess of his actual expenses." Any council member who violates that law "shall forfeit his office," it states.
Clarke and Mason said they were not interested in the money when they voted on the convention amendment and might not even accept it if elected. Moore, however, said he had no such qualms.
"I have expenses just like everybody else," he said.
The convention, expected to convene next January, is the first step in a lengthy, publicly funded District of Columbia campaign for statehood that was formally sanctioned under last year's initiative.
The delegates will be charged with drafting a proposed constitution for the new state. The constitution will then be submitted to city voters for approval next fall. A majority of both houses of Congress would then have to approve before the city could become the 51st state.
More than 100 District of Columbia citizens have filed to run for 45 convention delegate slots in an election to be held this November.
All three council members say they voted to allow appointed and elected officials to serve in the convention because they thought the meeting should benefit from the experience of public officials. In addition, Clarke said, "I majored in constitutional law at Howard University, and I thought the convention would give me the ability to use some of the things I learned that I haven't [used] on the council."