- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2011

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown introduced legislation Tuesday that would broadly expand disclosure requirements and other ethics rules for city employees and elected officials.

Under the bill, public officials must disclose financial interests in entities doing business with the District and ownership of real property outside of the city. It also closes a loophole that allows public officials to use their official positions for financial gain on behalf of nonprofits.

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, said he conceived of the bill during his campaign for chairman last year, not because of ethics allegations that have dogged him and Mayor Vincent C. Gray since early this year.

“This is not something that’s new,” said Mr. Brown, who introduced the bill with Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat.

He also said he is open to suggestions on fine-tuning the bill.

The Comprehensive Ethics Reform Act of 2011 would create the Office of Government Accountability within the Board of Elections and Ethics to examine standards of conduct, lobbying and conflicts of interest. The office would be empowered to investigate alleged violations and impose sanctions.

The act requires D.C. employees to receive annual ethics training and face maximum penalties of $5,000 for violating standards of conduct. It also requires lobbyists to register online and disclose their business relationships with elected officials.

Earlier this year, Mr. Brown was forced to return two fully loaded, city-leased Lincoln Navigators at his disposal, the first with an interior not to his liking. He is also the focus ofan investigation by the city’s Office of Campaign Finance, after an audit uncovered irregularities in his 2008 re-election committee’s reporting. And during his campaign last year, Mr. Brown acknowledged thousands of dollars in credit card debts.

Mr. Gray faces allegations of nepotism and “quid pro quo” agreements with regard to his hiring city employees, including those with six-figure salaries.

The Committee on Government Operations and the Environment has held four hearings on Gray’s appointments who served on the campaign and expected jobs in the administration. Its final report is expected to recommend policy changes to the practice of “excepted service” — political appointees who serve at the will of the mayor.