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Interpretative Opinion 02-13: Conflict of Interest

August 13, 2002

Charlotte Brookins-Hudson, General Counsel
Office of the General Counsel
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 4
Washington, DC 20004

Re: Potential Conflict of Interest

Dear Ms. Brookins-Hudson:

This responds to your request for an expedited opinion, on behalf of two (2) members of the District of Columbia Council, relative to the acceptance of food, lodging and other benefits from a company located in the District of Columbia. Specifically, you state the following: (1) that Capital Auto Auction regularly conducts automobile auctions in the District of Columbia; (2) that persons who purchase automobiles at such auctions are unable to receive registration, title, or insurance on the spot; (3) that Capital Auto Auction wishes to provide complimentary transportation to the Chair of the Committee on Public Works and the Chair of the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, or a designated staff member, to the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles for a site visit to observe the Pennsylvania process for on-site registration, title issuance, and insurance issues; (4) that the trip would include an overnight stay, transportation, and meals; (5) that the cost of the foregoing would likely be in excess of $100; and (6) that members of the Council are being invited to participate as a change in current law would be required to adopt the Pennsylvania procedure(s).

DC Official Code § 1-1106.01 (b) states, in relevant part, “[n]o public official shall use his or her official position or office to obtain financial gain for himself or herself, other than that compensation provided by law or said public official.”

DC Official Code § 1-1106.01 (c) provides, “[n]o person shall offer or give to a public official… and no public official shall solicit or receive anything of value, including a gift,… hospitality… based on any understanding that such public official’s official actions or judgment or vote would be influenced thereby, or where it could reasonably be inferred that the thing of value would influence the public official in the discharge of his or her duties…”.

DC Official Code § 1-1106.02(a)(5) requires the disclosure of “all gifts received in an aggregate value of $100 in a calendar year by such person from any business entity (including sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations) transacting any business with the District of Columbia government…”.

18 D.P.M. § 1803.2(b) (Employee Conduct Regulations) states, in pertinent part, “…a District employee shall not solicit or accept, either directly or through the intercession of others, any gift, gratuity, favor, loan, entertainment, or other like thing of value from a person who singularly or in concert with others: [c]onducts operations or activities that are subject to regulation by the DC government,…”.

18 D.P.M. § 1803.3(b) (Employee Conduct Regulations) provides, “[t]he restrictions outlined in § 1803.2 do not apply to the following: [t]he acceptance of food and refreshments of nominal value on infrequent occasions in the ordinary course of a luncheon or dinner meeting or while on an inspection tour where an employee may properly be in attendance.”

The activity you describe clearly could be characterized as an “inspection” or “fact-finding” tour of the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles for the purpose of obtaining information relevant to a governmental function in the District of Columbia. However, the payment for such activity is offered by a prohibited source, i.e., Capital Auto Auction, a company regulated by the District Government, by virtue of the business it conducts in the District of Columbia.

Further, because a change in District law would be required to allow the implementation of procedures patterned after Pennsylvania’s Department of Motor Vehicles, there may be an appearance of a conflict of interest occasioned by the acceptance of transportation and hospitality, which may have been provided to influence the decision-making of Councilmembers in a position to affect the outcome of legislation that could favorably impact Capital Auto Auction’s business.

Based on the foregoing, it is the opinion of the Office of Campaign Finance that neither the Councilmembers, nor members of their staff, should accept the offer of transportation and hospitality made by Capital Auto Auction. Moreover, it is our opinion that this activity is one which may be legitimately funded by the District of Columbia government to assist Councilmembers in the performance of their official responsibilities.