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Interpretative Opinion 11-04: Use of Campaign and Citizen-Service Funds

November 10, 2011

The Honorable Phil Mendelson
Councilmember At-Large
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Suite 402
Washington, DC 20004

Re: Reimbursement from Constituent Services Funds

Dear Councilmember Mendelson:

This responds to your request for an opinion regarding the appropriateness of using your constituent services fund to reimburse expenses incurred during a trip you took earlier this year.

You indicated that you were invited to participate in the “11th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama” which occurred between March 4 and March 6, 2011. The Pilgrimage was sponsored by The Faith & Politics Institute, The Institute’s stated mission includes engaging the public to “strengthen democracy by bringing members of Congress and the public they serve together across differences of race, religion, and political party in settings that promote understanding through dialogue and reflection.” You described the trip as relevant to your official work in view of the fact that the events highlighted the “Civil Rights Heritage” of this nation. You also noted that the District played an important role in the civil rights struggle and that history is important to your work as a city-wide elected representative. More importantly, you stated that the Pilgrimage provided you with an opportunity to develop relationships with members of Congress including Congressman Steny Hoyer (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D) both of Maryland, with whom you must work in your legislative capacity. You additionally stated that you paid for your participation from your personal account and are seeking guidance regarding whether reimbursement of your expenses from your constituent services fund would be appropriate.

D.C. Official Code § 1-1104.03(a) (2001 Edition) provides in pertinent part that “[t]he Mayor, the Chairman of the Council and each member of the Council may establish citizen-service programs within the District of Columbia. The Mayor, the Chairman of the council, and each member of the Council may finance the operation of such programs with contributions from persons, provided, that contributions received by the Mayor, the Chairman of the Council, and each member of the Council do not exceed an aggregate amount of $80,000 in any 1 calendar year for such programs. No person shall make any contribution which, and neither the Mayor, the Chairman of the Council, nor any member of the Council shall receive any contribution from any person which, when aggregate with all other contributions received from such person, exceed $500.00 per calendar year… No campaign activities shall be conducted nor shall campaign literature or paraphernalia be distributed as part of citizen-service programs conducted pursuant to this subsection.”

Title 3 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (3DCMR) §3014.1 provides that “[a] citizen-service program shall encompass any activity or program which provides services to the residents of the District of Columbia; and promotes their general welfare, including, but not limited to, charitable, scientific, educational, medical or recreational purposes.”

Based upon the information you have provided, it does not appear that reimbursement of the expenses you incurred as a result of your participation in the “11th Congressional Pilgrimage to Alabama” from your constituent services fund would violate any of the applicable statutory or regulatory provisions governing the uses of constituent services funds. Moreover, the environment in which the activity occurred appears to be conducive to helping you to establish good working relationships with members of Congress from of all political persuasions with whom you can continue to engage in dialog which is consistent with promoting of the general welfare of the residents of the District of Columbia.

However, as we are certain that you are aware, all expenditures of constituent services funds must be properly documented and reported to the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) on a quarterly basis in accordance 3 DCMR § 3017.2. In this regard, once expenditures are reported, the Audit Division of OCF may request submission of documentation for their review.

The foregoing is an Interpretative Opinion of the Director of the Office of Campaign Finance. Pursuant to D.C. Official Code §1-1103.05, you are entitled to request an Advisory Opinion from the Board of Elections and Ethics on this transaction or activity.

Should you have any additional questions, please contact William O. SanFord, General Council at (202) 671-0550.