April 22, 2010
Amy Bellanca, Esq
The Michael A. Brown Community Fund
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 406
Washington, DC 20004
Re: Permission to request that prospective employers donate a fee, to a Council member’s Constituent Services Fund to participate in a job fair
Dear Ms. Bellanca:
This responds to your request for an opinion regarding whether it would be permissible for Councilmember Michael Brown to request the donation of a fifty dollar ($50) entrance fee, payable to the Councilmember’s Constituent Services Fund from prospective employers who participate in a job fair for District residents. 1 You indicated that the fifty dollar ($50) fee will be used to help cover the cost associated with the event and is based on available space and attendance estimates.
D.C. Official Code § 1-1106.01(b) (2001 Edition) provides that “[n]o public official shall use his or her official position or office to obtain financial gain for himself or herself, any member of his or her household, or any business with which he or she or any member of his or her household is associated with, other than that compensation provided by law for said public official. This subsection shall not affect a vote by a public official: (1) On any matter which affects a class of persons (such a class shall include no less than 50 persons) of which such public official is a member if the financial gain to be realized is de minimis…”
D.C. Official Code § 1-1106.01(h)(2) defines “business” to mean “… any corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship, firm, enterprise, franchise, association, organization, self-employed individual, holding company, joint stock, trust, and any legal entity through which business is conducted for profit.”
In the instant case, it does not appear that the request for a fifty dollar ($50) contribution to the Councilmember’s Constituent Service Fund to assist in defraying the cost of the event would contravene any provision of the statute or create a conflict of interest. Additionally, any surplus funds will remain in the Councilmember’s Community Fund which may be used to finance citizen service programs within the District of Columbia.
D.C. Official Code § 1-1104.03(a) states 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 $80,000.00 in any 1 calendar year. The Mayor, the Chairman of the Council, and each member of the Council may expend a maximum of $80,000.00 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 aggregated with all other contributions received from such person, exceed $500.00 per calendar year …”
DPM § 1803.1 (a) provides that “[a]n employee shall avoid action, whether or not specifically prohibited by this chapter, which might result in or create the appearance of the following:
"(1) Using public office for private gain;
"(2) Giving preferential treatment to any person;
"(3) Impeding government efficiency or economy;
"(4) Losing complete independence or impartiality;
"(5) Making a government decision outside official channels; or
"(6) Affecting adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of government.”
The District of Columbia conflict of interest statute prohibits a public official from using his or her official position for personal financial gain. Moreover, the Employee Conduct
Regulations, applicable to the Council, require employees to avoid activities, which could create an appearance of using public office for private gain. However, in view of the fact that the job fair is designed to match unemployed District residents with potential employers, there does not appear to be any basis upon which it could be implied that the Councilmember would be engaging in any prohibited activity.
Therefore, based upon the information you have provided, it is the opinion of the Office of Campaign Finance that requesting that prospective employers contribute to the Councilmember’s Constituent Services Fund to participate in a job fair for District residents will not violate District law. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of the Councilmember to assure that no campaign activities are conducted nor campaign literature or paraphernalia be distributed as part of the citizen service program.
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, Senior Staff Attorney, at (202) 671-0550.
1 On March 30, 2010, you originally requested permission to require a fifty dollar ($50) entrance fee payable to Councilmember Michael Brown’s Constituent Services Fund. However, on April 21, 2010, you amended your request to permission to request a fifty dollar ($50) donation to the Councilmember’s Constituent Services Fund.