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Interpretative Opinion 12-06: Use of Campaign and Citizen-Service Funds

November 21, 2012

The Honorable Phil Mendelson
Chairman, District of Columbia Council
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004

Dear Chairman Mendelson:

This is in response to your request for an Interpretative Opinion, which was received October 22, 2012, in which you inquired about the appropriateness of council members using their constituent services funds to pay for expenses related to a Council-wide holiday party this coming December.
As you have indicated, you are aware that D.C. Official Code §1-1163.38 (b) (1) provides in pertinent part that constituent services funds “shall be expended only for an activity, service, or program which provides emergency, informational, charitable, scientific, educational, medical, or recreational services to the residents of the District of Columbia and which expenditure accrues to the primary benefit of the residents of the District of Columbia.”
You indicated that virtually every employee of the Council is a resident of the District of Columbia, which should meet the requirement that the expenditure of constituent services funds accrue to the benefit of residents. You additionally indicated that you expect that constituents outside the Council will attend the event. Thus, if the primary purpose of the event is to provide a fete for District residents, it certainly appears that such activity would fall within the recreational services constituent services funds may be expended to provide.
However, if the primary purpose of the event is to provide a holiday party for council members, members of their staffs and their respective family members, it would not be advisable to expend constituent services funds for that purpose. While it may be accurate to suggest that employees of the Council are residents of the District of Columbia, it does not appear that a holiday party primarily for the benefit of council members, employees of the council and their family members would promote the general welfare of the residents of the District of Columbia as envisioned by 3DCMR §3012.1.
Therefore, it is recommended that the organizers of the event take affirmative steps to assure that residents other than council employees are invited and included in the activity.
The foregoing is an Interpretative Opinion of the Director of the Office of Campaign Finance. Pursuant to D.C. Official Code § 1-1163.06, you are entitled to request an Advisory Opinion from the Board of Elections regarding this transaction or activity.
Should you have any further questions, please contact William O. SanFord, the General Counsel for the Office of Campaign Finance at (202) 671-0550.