- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

Private enterprises are increasingly paying money for out-of-town and overseas trips by D.C. officials, government records show.

The D.C. government reported accepting $5,500 in donations for travel bills incurred by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and other officials while on business in fiscal 2002 and 2003, according records from the D.C. Office of Partnerships and Grants Development.

However, records show that private enterprises gave at least $70,000 in 2004 and in the first quarter of 2005 to help cover trips for Mr. Williams and other officials.

Among those trips was a trade mission to China last year with five city council members that the D.C. Office of the Auditor is reviewing.

The issue of whether the D.C. government should be paying for trips overseas resurfaced earlier this week when Mr. Williams called for more private sponsorship of travel.

“I don’t believe the government should be paying for trips,” he said, adding that such arrangements should be “transparent” and “documented.”

The auditors’ probe focuses on whether the hiring of consultants to help organize the trade mission followed city contracting rules.

The mission was one of about a dozen trips in which outside groups donated money to help pay for Mr. Williams and other city officials to travel to other U.S. cities and abroad.

Many of the donations have come from nonprofit and civic organizations such as the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties.

The Washington Convention and Tourism Corporation also has been a frequent donor, paying for trips to conferences and meetings in Chicago and Minneapolis in recent years.

Private, for-profit businesses have also paid travel bills.

For example, the District-based law firm Harmon, Wilmot and Brown LLP contributed $25,000 for the China mission.

A principal in that firm, David W. Wilmot, works for several companies — including Comcast, AT&T;, Fannie Mae and Cingular Wireless — that pay him to lobby the D.C. government, according to records from the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.

Mr. Williams also said earlier this week that city officials should “look at whether these people have matters pending before the government” when examining whether to accept private donations.

Lafayette Barnes, director of the city’s partnerships and grants office, said yesterday that his staff reviews donations to D.C. government to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest.

“We make sure that the donor realizes this is purely a donation,” he said. “There is no quid pro quo.”

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat, chairman of the council’s Committee on Government Operations, said the D.C. government should scrutinize donations from outside groups to avoid potential conflicts.

“The city has to be extremely careful in those types of arrangements,” he said.

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