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Interpretative Opinion 03-12: Conflict of Interest

August 26, 2003

Charlotte Brookins-Hudson
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 opinion concerning what guidelines are to be followed by an elected official who wishes to engage in fundraising on behalf of other persons seeking elected office and the applicability of DPM § 1803.2 to such fundraising.  As you correctly noted, Section 1803.2 of the Standards of Conduct prohibits District employees from soliciting money from entities and persons who have or are seeking contracts with the District government, engage in activities regulated by the District government, or who have “an interest that may be favorably affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee’s official responsibilities.”

In addition, you requested guidance regarding the applicability of section 1803.2 of the Standards of Conduct to fundraising for political candidates in view of the fact that all monies raised is already subject to disclosure.

Section 1803.1 of the DPM 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:

(a) Using public office for private gain;
(b) Giving preferential treatment to any person;
(c) Impeding government efficiency or economy;
(d) Losing complete independence or impartiality;
(e) Making a government decision outside official channels; or
(f) Affecting adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of government.”

DC 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…”.

DC Official Code § 1-1106.01© states “[n]o person shall offer or give to a public official or member of a public official’s household, and no public official shall solicit or receive anything of value, including a gift, favor, service, loan gratuity, based on any understanding that such public official’s official actions or judgement 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, or as a reward, except for political contributions publicly reported pursuant to DC Official Code § 1-1102.06 and transactions made in the ordinary course of business of the person offering or giving the thing of value.”

In view of the fact that the foregoing provision excludes solicitation and receipt of publicly reported political contributions by public officials from the prohibited activity, public officials are permitted to engage in fundraising on behalf of other persons who are seeking elected office.

Moreover, based upon your representations herein, it would appear that any funds solicited by a Council member on behalf of another person who is seeking or considering elective office would not inure any financial gain to the Council member. Thus, the elected officials to whom you refer would not be prohibited from soliciting funds on behalf of aspiring officeholders. However, pursuant to Sections 1804 and 1805 of the DPM, elected officials and employees are prohibited from using government resources or property for other than official business, or government approved or sponsored activities. Therefore, in accordance with these prohibitions, any fundraising activity engaged in by employees or elected officials must be clearly distinguishable from official responsibilities.