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Interpretative Opinion 02-14: Conflict of Interest

August 16, 2002

Charlotte Brookins-Hudson, General Counsel
Office of the 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 expedited opinion concerning the use of the Council website for posting responses to questionnaires circulated to candidates for DC Council. Specifically, you state that a member of the Council, an incumbent candidate for office, has received and responded to questionnaires from groups who are in a position to endorse such candidates. Therefore, you inquire as to whether use of the Council website to post such responses would present a potential conflict of interest.

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…".

18 D.P.M. § 1804.1(b) (Employee Conduct Regulations) prohibits an employee from "[u]sing government time or resources for other than official business, or government approved or sponsored activities…".

Clearly, the establishment of a campaign-sponsored website by a candidate for the purpose of advocating his or her election is permissible. However, the posting of an incumbent Councilmember's campaign-related responses to questionnaires on the Council website, a government-sponsored resource, would be a prohibited use of government resources. Further, such could be viewed as inuring a direct financial benefit to the incumbent candidate because use of the Council website for this purpose would be exclusive to current members of the Council. Consequently, it would provide a cost-free means of campaign communication not available to other candidates, thereby conferring a financial benefit to the officeholder. Moreover, if the responses are viewed as campaign literature, the applicable statutory language must be attributed thereto, and a concern is then raised as to the proper reporting of same.

Therefore, it is the opinion of the Office of Campaign Finance that the use of the Council website by an incumbent Councilmember to post responses to campaign-related questionnaires would present a potential conflict of interest, and a Standards of Conduct issue. Consequently, it is recommended that the Councilmember avoid posting his responses on the Council website, and communicate his views, as candidate, via other means at this time.