A D.C. Council committee has asked mayoral nominees to a city housing board detailed questions about their political activities and fundraising, raising sharp objections from Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s administration.
The conflict surrounds a five-page questionnaire sent from the council’s Economic Development Committee, chaired by Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), to nine recent nominees to the Housing Production Trust Fund Board. The board oversees and directs the fund, which is meant to help finance affordable housing developments in the city.
The questionnaire includes a number of standard questions, including about work history, business interests, tax compliance and other matters. Less standard is a series of questions about each nominee’s “[p]olitical affiliation and activities,” including positions held in political parties or campaigns; “services rendered” to parties, conventions or campaigns; and donations to political campaigns or causes.
One question also asks nominees to list political fundraising events they have hosted or co-hosted in the past 10 years, “including the name of the candidate, the date of the event, and where the event was held.”
Bowser defended the questions, noting her committees have also asked them of nominees to the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, the Board of Elections and the Office of Employee Appeals in recent years.
“People want to know . . . that when people will be influencing how $100 million are spent, that they will be free of conflicts,” she said.
But two Gray administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly, said they are concerned Bowser’s committee could evaluate nominees based on their political affiliations and activities rather than professional merit. One suggested the questions could infringe the nominees’ free-speech rights.
Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said the matter has been referred to the Office of the Attorney General for review. The questionnaire, he said, “raises some troubling questions and could have a chilling effect on nominees sent to the council.”
Bowser, a frequent critic of Gray and his administration, launched a mayoral run in March, and the two parties clashed over budget moves last month. Gray has not announced whether he will run for reelection next year.
Bowser said a nominee’s political activity is fair game for disclosure. “We certainly aren’t trying to embarrass anybody,” she said. “But if you want to be a member of a board, there is a greater expectation that you will be forthcoming with this type of information.”
She added, “I don’t know why anybody would speak against transparency. . . . Me, I’m going to err on the side of transparency.”
All but one of the nine nominees, Bowser said, have returned their questionnaires.