THE D.C. BOARD of Elections and Ethics continues to protect the city's electoral process, even when the mayor and the D.C. Council tend to look the other way. The Video Lottery Terminal Initiative of 2004 is a case in point. Last year the board rejected thousands of petition signatures supporting that measure to bring slot machine gambling to the District after finding, as it noted last week, that the petition circulation process was "fraught with, and polluted by, improprieties and irregularities." City officials were relatively mute, however, even as this newspaper and community watchdog groups such as DCWatch and DC Against Slots revealed that promoters of legalizing slot machines in the nation's capital were virtually thumbing their noses at D.C. election laws. Fortunately, the board found that gambling supporters had committed "significant and pervasive irregularities and improprieties of a magnitude never previously experienced in this jurisdiction," and it imposed a penalty to match: For the first time in its history, the board levied fines in the context of an initiative petition, in the amount of $622,880. The next question? How to collect from the proponents of the ill-fated Video Lottery Terminal Initiative.
The slots initiative was backed by offshore gambling entrepreneurs who spent, according to the board's counsel, Kenneth McGhie, at least $1.7 million. Unfortunately, the board's nearly $623,000 in fines are levied not against the deep pockets of the offshore interests but against the local Citizens Committee for the D.C. Lottery Video Terminal Initiative and against Pedro Alfonso, Vickey Wilcher and Margaret Gentry in their "official" capacities as committee officers and initiators of the measure. Mr. Alfonso, Ms. Wilcher and Ms. Gentry have resigned their committee posts and, under the board's order, they will not be held accountable for their actions. That leaves the citizens committee, which had $3,410 in the bank as of last week, according to its lawyer, George Jones. So who is going to pay the elections board's historic fine?
That question has also occurred to the board's counsel, who told us on Monday that the matter will be referred to the civil enforcement section of the D.C. attorney general's office. He noted that the citizens committee is still paying bills, including about $200,000 recently to a local law firm. As of July 28, the committee had debts of $576,513.70. The elections board, he suggested, has no intention of letting the matter rest; nor should it. The record is clear: Sponsors of the gambling initiative were, as the board found, negligent in their supervision and conduct of the petition circulation process, and they demonstrated "a clear indifference" to whether the integrity of the elections process was being protected. Collection of the fines must be pursued by all available means. Promoters of video gambling should be made to pay for their mockery of the law.