A political action committee controlled by D.C. Council member Jack Evans reimbursed him $6,772.72 for his trip to Asia last year even though the council had already covered the costs of the official mission, according to records and interviews.
Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said yesterday that the council's budget paid for round-trip airfare and some hotel expenses for Evans (D-Ward 2) and four other council members who went on the trip with Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) in October 2004. She said that the purchase of the plane tickets and other expenditures were handled by the office of the secretary to the council.
But the financial reports Evans's PAC filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance show that the PAC reimbursed him the $6,772.72 on Dec. 16 "for expenses incurred during China delegation trip."
Evans did not return three phone calls yesterday seeking more information about the PAC reimbursement. The PAC's treasurer at the time, lawyer Mark E. Grummer, declined to comment. The fund's longtime chairman, lawyer William N. Hall, declined to comment, citing an audit of the PAC that the Campaign Finance Office is conducting.
The 11-day cultural and economic mission to China and Thailand took place at the invitation of the District's sister cities, Beijing and Bangkok. The delegation included Evans's close friend Marsha Ralls, who is the owner of a Georgetown art gallery.
In an interview late last month, Evans said the PAC reimbursement was for his trip to Asia. He said that the PAC did not pay for Ralls and that she covered her expenses on the trip. "Marsha paid her own way," he said.
A woman who answered the phone yesterday at the Ralls Collection, Ralls's business, said she was out of town and not easily reachable.
Cropp said the council paid $8,535 for Evans's travel, about $2,000 more than the payment for each of the other council members on the trip. She said Evans's expenses were higher because he stayed in the same hotel in Beijing as business members of the delegation, and the nightly rate there was more expensive. Cropp said her understanding was that Evans went to that hotel so that there would be a public official with the business group.
Records show that Evans reimbursed the council $116 for a personal expense from the Asia trip, Cropp said.
Evans, a lawyer and chairman of the council's Committee on Finance and Revenue, has filed papers to run for council chairman next year. Cropp has announced her candidacy for mayor.
In 1993, two years after he was first elected to the council, Evans submitted papers of organization for the PAC. PACs are generally formed to help political candidates, parties and the causes they support. Public officials are allowed to establish and oversee PACs, but they should avoid any direct involvement in a PAC's decisions to spend money on their behalf, according to the D.C. Campaign Finance Office.
Records show that Evans has used the PAC to make political contributions and to reimburse himself thousands of dollars in travel and entertainment expenses. In 2004 and this year, Evans wrote some checks that bear the same account number as the PAC but display only his name and home address in Georgetown.
The office has begun an audit to determine whether the PAC's operations have violated any city laws or regulations. Among the issues it is exploring is whether some of the reimbursements Evans received were improper and whether some of them should have been paid for instead by his campaign committee or his D.C. Council constituent-services fund.
Evans acknowledged in an interview last month that he has played a leading role in deciding how the PAC's money should be spent. He said that he assumed his role in the PAC was in compliance with District laws and that regulators did not tell him otherwise.
Officials with the campaign finance agency said that because the PAC had a separate treasurer and chairman, as required by law, they had not realized that Evans was directing the fund's finances. They also said they were unaware he was using the personalized checks.
Since the summer of 1993, the PAC has taken in $223,245 and spent $206,264, according to campaign finance records.
One of the expenditures that the regulators had questioned this year was the $6,772.72 reimbursement for the Asia trip. But the campaign finance office signed off on the expenditure in April after receiving the PAC's response that the travel was related to business and was the kind of expense the fund was intended to cover.
On Sept. 29, after a reporter interviewed Evans about his role in the fund, Hall notified the Campaign Finance Office in a two-page letter that the PAC was being closed down. In a meeting with Evans about three weeks earlier, regulators had said that the council member needed to curtail his involvement with the fund.
The Campaign Finance Office said yesterday that because its audit is underway, it had no comment about Cropp's information that the council had paid for Evans's Asia trip.