D.C. Council member Jack Evans now says that his political action committee paid some of the travel expenses of a close friend when she went on a trade mission to Asia with him last year.
In his weekly newsletter released Friday, Evans (D-Ward 2) said, "One of the expenses that the PAC covered was for the lodging of a friend, who traveled to China as part of an official Washington delegation."
Evans gave a different account in an interview last month, saying a $6,772.72 reimbursement he received from the PAC was for his travel expenses on the 11-day trip to China and Thailand in October 2004. He said in the interview that his friend, Georgetown art gallery owner Marsha Ralls, "paid her own way" on the trip.
And Ralls is not mentioned in the spending report the PAC filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, which said only that the Dec. 16 reimbursement of $6,772.72 was "for expenses incurred during China delegation trip."
When the campaign finance office early this year requested more information about the reimbursement, the PAC's treasurer at the time reiterated that the repayment was for business costs stemming from the Asia mission and did not mention Ralls or any Evans friend, according to officials with the agency.
The statement Evans made in Friday's newsletter came the day after The Washington Post reported that according to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), the council budget covered round-trip airfare and some hotel costs for Evans and the four other council members who went on the official mission with Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
The campaign finance office is conducting an audit to determine, among other issues, whether any reimbursements Evans received from the PAC were improper and whether some of the expenses should have been paid for instead by his campaign committee or his D.C. Council constituent-services fund.
Evans filed papers of organization for the PAC in 1993. Records show that he has used it to reimburse himself thousands of dollars in travel and entertainment expenses and to make political contributions. He also wrote some checks, in 2004 and this year, that bear the PAC's account number but display only his name and home address in Georgetown. On Sept. 29, PAC officials announced plans to close down the fund, after a reporter interviewed Evans about his role in making decisions concerning its expenditures.
An attorney for the PAC, N. William Jarvis, said yesterday that the $6,772.72 reimbursement not only went toward Ralls's lodging but also covered some of her travel inside China and Thailand and perhaps some meals that she and Evans had together. Jarvis said the reimbursement went to Evans because he was the one who covered those costs.
Asked whether it was appropriate to use the PAC to pay for some of Ralls's travel expenses, Jarvis said: "The PAC clearly believes so. It was a business-related trip in the political life of Jack Evans."
Ralls wrote in an e-mail yesterday that she had not realized that the PAC paid for her lodging and that she had not even heard of the fund until recently. She said she was invited on the trip as a businesswoman and that it was her understanding that she needed to pay for airfare and incidentals. She said she covered her plane tickets to and from Asia, and Jarvis agreed that the PAC contributed no money for that purpose.
Evans and the PAC's chairman, lawyer William N. Hall, did not return calls yesterday.
Jarvis would not comment on the discrepancy between what Evans said in the interview last month and what he said in the newsletter last week. He also would not comment on why the PAC had not told regulators previously that it had covered some of Ralls's costs. Jarvis said he had not reviewed all the correspondence between the PAC and the campaign finance office.
The PAC's treasurer at the time of the Asia mission, lawyer Mark E. Grummer, declined to comment.
The campaign finance office, citing the audit it is conducting, said it would have no statement about the PAC's reimbursement for some of Ralls's travel expenses.
Two of the public officials who went on the Asia mission were accompanied by spouses. Travel for the mayor's wife, Diane Simmons Williams, was covered by a nonprofit corporation formed by the mayor with leftover inaugural funds to pay city-related travel expenses. Michael Ambrose, the husband of D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), paid for his trip.
Evans, who has submitted papers to run for council chairman next year, said in Friday's newsletter: "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."
He added, "I am confident that the PAC has operated in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations."