New Bill Will Expand and Strengthen District Ethics Board
First bill from Councilmember Nadeau will expand BEGA authority, close loopholes and give it more resources to hold government and lobbyists accountable
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 3, 2015
Contact: Tom Fazzini, firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 724-8180
WASHINGTON –Three years after the creation of an independent ethics board for the District, a new bill introduced today will expand its authority, close loopholes and give it more resources and power to hold lobbyists, government employees and public officials accountable for breaking the rules. The Ethics Reform Amendment Act of 2015 is the first bill introduced by Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), reflecting her commitment to open government and accountability. Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Councilmembers Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), David Grosso (I-At Large), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) are co-introducers of the bill.
“BEGA is the most essential partner we have in rooting out corruption and ensuring the public trust is upheld, and I want to make sure they have all the tools they need to do that job,” said Councilmember Nadeau. “Three years after the board was created, we have enough experience to identify loopholes that need to be closed and how to make it easier for the board to do business. This bill will help the District’s independent ethics watchdog hold elected officials, government employees and lobbyists accountable.”
BEGA, the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, is three-member board started in 2012 that has the power to investigate unethical behavior in DC government and issue fines up to $5,000. The provisions of the Ethics Reform Amendment Act of 2015 are based on recommendations from its most recent annual report, which outlines reforms that would strengthen ethics rules and accountability.
The bill expands the size of BEGA from three to five members to make it easier for the board to have a quorum – a minimum number of members – present to do business and would allow for three member hearing panels in contested cases. It also makes it easier for BEGA to prosecute offenders by giving it new concurrent civil and criminal jurisdiction to enforce civil offenses and issue civil penalties, including a 2 year ban on lobbying, while the US Attorney’s Office prosecutes criminal offenses.
The bill makes it easier to track lobbying activities by requiring all lobbyists to file regular activity reports and it prohibits lobbyists who haven’t paid fines from continuing to work with the DC government until fines are paid.
It also gives BEGA new authority to review contributions and donations to ANCs. Currently, there is no review process in place regarding aggregate contributions up to $1,000 to ANCs. The bill will subject ANCs to BEGA’s jurisdiction regarding contributions or donations of less than $1,000 and for their failure to report contributions or donations of more than $1,000.
Other provisions give BEGA the authority to fine people who submit claims intended to slow down investigations and bottleneck the process, or are otherwise taken in bad faith; give BEGA more flexibility to decide the content of their yearly best practices report; and adjust reporting deadlines that currently fall near federal holidays.
Councilmember Nadeau is committed to ethics and government accountability. Already, she is a co-introducer of bills to eliminate the council’s contract review authority, to ban contractors that make political donations from doing business with the District and to prohibit outside employment of Councilmembers.
Download the full text of the bill: http://tinyurl.com/nadeaureformbill
About Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau
In her many years of service to the community, Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) has brought perspectives from a career that spans the non-profit, public and private sectors. She is committed to strengthening our schools, increasing affordable housing and promoting government transparency and the highest ethical standards. Prior to joining the Council, she was a strategic advisor to faith-based, Democratic and environmental non-profits, and is a former ANC. Follow her on Twitter @brianneknadeau or at Facebook.com/brianneknadeau.