A sweeping ethics bill has cleared the D.C. Council in a 12-to-1 vote ending six months of wrangling amid a series of investigations over financial and ethical improprieties that have plagued city government, but critics said the new law still isn’t tough enough.
The measure was sent Dec. 20 to Mayor Vincent Gray, who the following day announced his intention to sign it.
Under the legislation, D.C. elected officials face tougher disclosure rules and new penalties for ethics violations, including the possibility of impeachment. The new law also would bar felons from serving on the council or as mayor and would give the city’s attorney general the authority to prosecute elected officials for ethics violations.
An amendment banning outside income for council members, who earn $125,583 annually, failed, drawing criticism from Vincent Orange (D-At Large), who suggested that companies with business before the city may benefit from having council members on their payrolls.
"This current climate dictates comprehensive ethics reform legislation. District residents have repeatedly expressed their desire for an ethics bill that has teeth,” Orange said in a statement released before the vote.
But former Mayor and Ward 8 council member Marion Barry said there was no systemic history of “pay-to-play” politics in city government.
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who cast the sole opposing vote, told The Washington Post that the council had failed to address the role of money in politics.
In a statement after the measure passed, At-large Council candidate David Grosso said he believes the council missed several opportunities to strengthen the measure.
“Without substantial changes the bill fails to solve the Council’s inability to tackle unethical practices of elected officials,” Grosso said. “The bill could have been saved by a string of amendments to plug its gaping holes. At the very least, a responsible, serious ethics law would ban council members’ slush funds [funds council members could use for constituent services] …require that council members work full-time for the people of the District; and make campaign contributions, especially those from corporations with financial interests in Council business, transparent so the citizens of D.C. will know which council members are bankrolled by which corporations.”
Council Chairman Kwame Brown acknowledged that some critics feel the legislation does not go far enough, but said it is a significant first step. “It’s been a hard, long road this year, but…we delivered for the residents,” Brown told The Post.