D.C. Council member’s spending questioned

Ward 7 residents seek investigation

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A group of Ward 7 residents has asked the District's Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) to investigate D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander’s use of constituent service funds to determine if she violated fundraising and conflict of interest laws.

In a letter Friday on behalf of eight community members, Geraldine Washington asked OCF Director Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery to determine whether Ms. Alexander commingled campaign and constituent service funds, failed to report in-kind contributions, exceeded in-kind donation limits, accepted reduced rents on a campaign and constituent service office in exchange for introducing legislation to benefit her landlord, and benefited personally from funds raised for constituents.

In March, a review by The Washington Times showed that Ms. Alexander, who represents some of the citys poorest households, spent less than 5 percent of the more than $120,000 she raised since 2007 to help constituents with urgent needs such as funeral expenses, rent and utilities.

The Ward 7 Democrat, who sponsored a 2009 bill to double the amount council members can raise for their constituent service fund, spent the bulk of the money donated by businesses, labor unions, lobbyists and others — more than $69,000 — on catering, consultants, advertising, and supplies for community events and fundraisers, The Times review of campaign finance reports showed.

Ms. Alexander, who last year also questioned record-keeping practices and called for an audit of the nonprofit group People Addicted to Peace (Peaceoholics), has refused to provide documentation requested by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to explain her use of constituent service funds.

An email to her office and call to her cellphone were not returned.

In her letter, Ms. Washington said Ms. Alexander also refused citizen requests for receipts or invoices to justify thousands of dollars in recent expenditures from her constituent service fund, including money paid to her treasurer, Derek Ford, a Wal-Mart consultant whose city records show operates an unregistered company that also received constituent service funds at his Southeast D.C. apartment.

“It is our hope that careful and great consideration be given to our request and a formal investigation be conducted to substantiate or nullify the community’s concerns regarding this matter,” Ms. Washington wrote.

D.C. Council Secretary Nyasha Smith, a former aide to Ms. Alexander, also recently denied a FOIA request from The Times for information about Ms. Alexander’s constituent service fund expenditures, and for a copy of Ms. Alexander’s lease and phone bill from the office she rented on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast from former Ward 7 council member H.R. Crawford.

John Hoellen, general counsel for the D.C. Council, would not cite any law exempting disclosure of such information, and deferred to Ms. Smith and Ms. Alexander.

Ms. Alexander closed the office in February after her telephone was cut off for an unpaid $5,388 bill. Council records show she introduced legislation in 2009 that would allow the city to seize and redevelop properties surrounding the building that houses her office — a deal that would have benefited Mr. Crawford, a developer and property manager who does a considerable amount of business with the city. She later withdrew the bill.

Campaign finance and constituent service fund reports show Ms. Alexander paid $49,200 to Mr. Crawfords real estate company from April 2007 to Nov. 3, 2010. The lease was terminated in January, and a September email from Mr. Crawford’s office to Ms. Alexander’s office shows the council member owed back rent.

Last month, Mr. Crawford told The Times he charged Ms. Alexander $1,200 a month when she used the office for campaign purposes, and $950 a month when she used it as a constituent service office. The request for an OCF investigation notes that Ms. Alexander’s constituent service fund report shows rent paid in increments of both $950 and $1,200 a month in recent years.

D.C. law prohibits use of constituent service funds for campaign purposes.

Ms. Washington’s letter also asks the OCF to investigate whether Ms. Alexander properly reported in-kind contributions of $250 a month, the difference in the amounts of rent she paid to Mr. Crawford.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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