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Interpretative Opinion 02-06: Conflict of Interest

May 16, 2002

Ms. Ellen Opper-Weiner
223 Tenth Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003

Re: Potential Conflict of Interest

Dear Ms. Opper-Weiner:

This is in response to your request for an expedited written opinion concerning the propriety of the acceptance of donations by representatives of the Southeast Citizens For Smart Development, Inc. (SCSD) from Alcohol Beverage Control Board (ABC)-licensed establishments to benefit a legal defense fund. Further, you state the following: (1) that the legal defense fund has been established to defray legal expenses and fees associated with a lawsuit in which you and SCSD are defendants; (2) that you are a current member of the ABC Board and serve as Vice Chair of SCSD; and (3) that you would not participate in direct solicitation of ABC-licensees.

DC Official Code § 1-1106.01(b) states, in pertinent part, “[n]o public official shall use his or her official position or office to obtain financial gain for himself or herself, . . . , or any business with which he or she . . . , is associated . . . ”.

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, 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 § 1-1106.01(g) states, “[a]ny public official who, in the discharge of his or her official duties, would be required to take an action or make a decision that would affect directly or indirectly his or her financial interests . . . , or a business with which he or she is associated, or must take an action on a matter as to which he or she has a conflict situation created by a personal, family, or client interest, shall: (1) Prepare a written statement describing the matter requiring action or decision, and the nature of his or her potential conflict of interest with respect to such action or decision; (2) Cause copies of such statement to be delivered to the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics . . . , and to his or her immediate superior, if any.”

18 DPM § 1803.2, provides, “[e]xcept as noted in § 1803.3, 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: (a) [h]as, or is seeking to obtain, contractual or other business or financial relations with the DC government; (b) [c]onducts operations or activities that are subject to regulation by the DC government; or (c) [h]as an interest that may be favorably affected by the performance or non-performance of the employee’s official responsibilities.”

As you may be aware, members of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board (ABC), as public officials, are subject to the provisions of the conflict of interest statute at DC Official Code § 1-1106.01 et seq. This statute prohibits public officials from engaging in conduct involving the use of their official positions for personal financial gain. While you state that representatives of SCSD would solicit funds from ABC-licensees on behalf of the legal defense fund, we caution you to be aware of those licensees who are solicited in the event official action comes before you involving these entities. Further, we recommend that you remove yourself from taking any official action relative to these entities to avoid an inference that your official decision-making may have been compromised by the fundraising activity.

Since Board and Commission members are subject to Chapter 18 of the District Personnel Manual (Employee Standards of Conduct), you should be aware of the prohibition against the solicitation and acceptance of anything of value, directly or indirectly, from entities who either: (1) have, or are seeking to do business with the District Government; (2) are regulated by the District Government; and/or (3) have an interest that may be favorably affected by your performance of an official act. Clearly, all three of these conditions are met by ABC-licensees. Consequently, it is the opinion of the Office of Campaign Finance that you limit your direct involvement in the legal defense fundraising activity, and that you exercise great care with respect to taking official actions which may involve ABC licensees who may be solicited for donations.