THE POLITICAL action committee formed to advance the agenda of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has been disbanded, but it continues to do damage. On Thursday we learned that the head of the now-defunct FreshPAC had been hired to lobby the government by a power company seeking approval for a controversial merger. The revelation raises new questions about the mayor’s handling of the matter. Unless Ms. Bowser wants her otherwise promising start in office tarnished, she should provide information that shows exactly how decisions were reached and make clear she understands why the arrangement was problematic.
Earle “Chico” Horton III, who chaired FreshPAC, was hired by Exelon in late September to lobby D.C. leaders for approval of a $6.8 billion merger with Pepco, WAMU’s Patrick Madden reported. At the same time, the Bowser administration, which had opposed the merger, said it would work with Exelon on a settlement agreement that would give more benefits to the city and allow the merger to go forward. It is unclear how much Mr. Horton was paid, what he did or with whom he met; a report on his activities is due next month to the city’s ethics board. Ms. Bowser told us she was unaware he was working for Exelon and never discussed the merger with him.
There is nothing illegal, or all that unusual, about companies hiring lobbyists with connections they think will serve their interests. It’s important to note that the city’s decision on the merger rests ultimately with the Public Service Commission, not the mayor. And the formation of the political action committee and its solicitation of unlimited contributions, including from companies seeking to do business with the city, were within the law. But what is legal is not always right, and the fact that someone who was raising thousands of dollars to advance the mayor’s interests was at the same time carrying water for a company that wanted something from the government is more than unseemly. It undermines confidence in government.
Dismantling FreshPAC last month was a good first step. Now we hope Ms. Bowser will express in no uncertain terms how wrong it was for Mr. Horton to wear these two hats. And while we think it was reasonable for Ms. Bowser (along with a number of other D.C. officials) to support the Pepco-Exelon merger, she should step back as the independent Public Service Commission makes its final decision. We also would urge her to release emails and other materials documenting the negotiations that went into the settlement. Doing so would go a long way toward fulfilling Ms. Bowser’s inaugural promise of transparent and honest government.