The ethics scandal surrounding D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) has prompted some local activists to go door-to-door in his district to make the case for stronger ethics laws.
The liberal group D.C. for Democracy is collecting signatures for a petition urging the council to pass tougher ethics rules, saying Evans’s conduct has laid bare the need.
“There needs to be some systemic fixes to reform the way the council does business,” said Jeremiah Lowery, the group’s chairman, who made an unsuccessful bid for an at-large council seat in last year’s Democratic primary. “If you replace Jack Evans . . . with another council member, then the underlying problems with how the council does business still exist. The system is still intact.”
The D.C. for Democracy petition urges residents to support a ban on outside employment for council members, and calls for measures abolishing constituent services funds and strengthening the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which is responsible for enforcing the city’s ethics laws.
The group hopes to collect thousands of signatures to turn in to the D.C. Council, which is considering changes in ethics laws, including a ban on outside employment for lawmakers.
It collected 200 signatures after its first weekend of canvassing in Georgetown and plans to deploy canvassers once a month, as well as soliciting support online.
And the group is targeting districts where lawmakers have faced ethics issues, including Evans’s Ward 2 and Ward 4, where D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D) has been repeatedly penalized for campaign finance violations.
Evans did not immediately return a request for comment. Todd’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The D.C. Council in March reprimanded Evans and stripped him of some legislative responsibilities for repeatedly soliciting business from law firms that lobby the city, offering to help their clients by using the influence and connections he amassed as a lawmaker and as chairman of the Metro board.
A federal grand jury has issued subpoenas for documents related to Evans and his private business dealings. The Metro board has also launched an ethics review, which is ongoing.
Evans, the city’s longest-serving lawmaker, has drawn his first primary challenger in more than a decade.
Of the 13-member council, only Evans and council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), a George Washington University law professor, report significant outside income.
Many state legislatures and city councils across the country are part time and allow officeholders to hold side jobs if they recuse themselves from matters directly affecting their employers.
But critics say members of the D.C. Council should be considered full time because they are working most of the year and receive salaries of $140,000.
They also say the city’s ethics laws are open to abuse because although lawmakers are required to report outside income, they do not have to identify the source, and it is up to them to disclose conflicts of interest. Since 2016, Evans has had a consulting firm but has declined to identify his clients.
Evans told The Washington Post last month that he will stop his outside consulting and legal work. But city records show Evans renewed the business registration for his firm, NSE Consulting LLC, in late March, which he said was on “the advice of counsel.”
The petition’s call to abolish constituent services funds also relates to Evans.
D.C. law allows elected officials to accept donations to help residents with certain expenses or services, such as an overdue electric bill, the burial of a loved one or a turkey at Thanksgiving. Eight of the 13 council members maintain such funds.
But Evans has the largest fund of any lawmaker by far, even though his constituents have a median income of $104,504 — the second highest of any ward in the city. He had $151,714 available in his account at the start of last month, and some of those donations came from entities with business before the council.
He has long used his constituent services funds to purchase sports tickets, subscriptions and even to pay a parking ticket in Arlington, although he recently said he will stop using the funds for season sports tickets.
The D.C. for Democracy petition does not mention Evans, but canvassers have brought up his scandals.
Canvassing in one of the wealthier neighborhoods in Georgetown last weekend, activists encountered trouble getting Evans’s constituents to sign.
“I personally talked to people who were quite supportive of the reforms that we’re advocating for but who refused to sign the petition because they were nervous about some kind of blowback,” said Keshini Ladduwahetty, a D.C. for Democracy activist.
Separate efforts to recall Evans from office have run into trouble.
The D.C. Board of Elections early last month halted an effort by activists to recall Evans because they lacked the proper paperwork. That prevented them from collecting the 5,200 signatures needed to trigger a recall election. Recall supporters resubmitted their paperwork April 12 but the D.C. Board of Elections has declined to consider it until May 20, adding to the delays. Meanwhile, another group of activists is launching a separate recall effort against Evans in the event the other effort fails to qualify.