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Interpretative Opinion 01-03: Conflict of Interest

February 5, 2001

Charlotte Brookins-Hudson, General Counsel
Council of the District of Columbia
441-4th Street, NW
Washington, DC  20001

Re: Potential Conflict of Interest

Dear Ms. Brookins-Hudson:

This responds to your request for an interpretative opinion concerning whether the acceptance of NBA All-Star Game tickets by elected officials would constitute a potential conflict of interest.  You state that Mr. Abe Pollin, who operates and controls the MCI Center, received tickets free of charge from the NBA, and has offered tickets to members of the Council to attend the NBA All-Star 2001 events.  You further state that the cost of the tickets for each event ranges from approximately $100 to $150 in value.  In addition, you represent that the Arena is not a registered lobbyist in the District, and that the MCI Center is not regulated by the District of Columbia Government.  Moreover, you represent your understanding that the Mayor and one (1) Councilmember engaged in informal discussions with Mr. Pollin concerning tax relief legislation for the Arena, although no legislation is currently pending before the Council involving the Arena.

You forwarded the following documents for OCF review, which were deemed relevant to the disposition of the opinion:  (1) the Agreement between “NEWCO”, a company controlled by Abe Pollin and the District of Columbia dated March 2, 1995; (2) the Land Disposition Agreement – Ground Lease between the District of Columbia Redevelopment Land Agency and DC Arena L.P. dated December 29, 1995; and (3) the Ticket Policy for District of Columbia Government Officials, in accordance with the aforementioned Land Disposition Agreement.  The Ticket Policy states that the Washington Sports & Entertainment, L.P. (WSELP), will make complimentary seats at the MCI Center available to DC government officials for events “in furtherance of economic development efforts in the city.”

  DC Code § 1-1461 ( c) 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, . . . based on any understanding that such public official’s official actions or judgment or vote would be influenced thereby, or where it could be reasonably 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 § 1-1416 and transactions made in the ordinary course of business of the person offering or giving the thing of value.”

  DC Code § 1-1462(a)(5) requires the disclosure of all gifts received in an aggregate value of $100 in a calendar year by such person from any business entity (including sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations) transacting any business with the District of Columbia government . . .”.

  DC Code §§1-1456 (a) states, “[n]o registrant or anyone acting on behalf of a registrant shall offer, give, or cause to be given a gift to an official in the legislative or executive branch or a member of his or her staff, that exceeds $100 in value in the aggregate in any calendar year.”  Further, DC Code § 1-1456(b) provides, “[n]o official in the legislative or executive branch or a member of his or her staff shall solicit or accept anything of value in violation of subsection (a) of this section.”

18 D.P.M §1803.2 ( DC Personnel Regulations) provides, in relevant part, “a District employee . . . shall not solicit or accept, either directly or through the intercession of others, any gift, gratuity, favor, loan, entertainment, or other thing of value from a person who singularly or in concert with others – (1) [h]as, or is seeking to obtain, contractual or other business or financial relations with the District government; (2) [c]onducts operations or activities that are subject to regulation by the District government; or (3) [h]as interests that may be favorably affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee’s official duty.”

Since you have advised the MCI Center (Center) has no legislative matters pending before the Council, and any regulation of the Center would not be subject to Council authority, it is our opinion that the acceptance of the tickets would not violate § 1803.2 of the Regulations. Moreover, because of the agreements between the District of Columbia Government, DC Arena, L.P., and Washington Sports & Entertainment, L.P. concerning the availability of complimentary seats to DC government officials for certain events to promote the city’s economic development, it would not be inappropriate for Councilmembers to accept tickets under these circumstances.

As you are aware, the Conflict of Interest Statute clearly establishes a nexus between the acceptance of any thing of value and the potential for favored official action.  However, the  statute  also  provides  a  disclosure  mechanism  whereby  public  officials must reveal gifts received valued at $100 or greater for open, public scrutiny.  Consequently, it is the opinion of this Office that all Councilmembers who accept tickets for the NBA All-Star events are required to disclose the tickets, within 30 days of receipt of the tickets, on their Financial Disclosure Statements amending calendar year 2000 pursuant to DC Code § 1-1462.  Further, based on your representation that the Arena is not a registered lobbyist in the District, the prohibition concerning acceptance of gifts in DC Code §§ 1-1456(a) and (b) do not apply.

Finally, since you represented that discussions occurred between Mr. Pollin, the Mayor and an unnamed Councilmember concerning tax relief for the Arena, we would caution these public officials to consider following the recusal procedures in DC Code § 1-1461(g) should either decide to attend these events.  These procedures are operable in situations where it could be reasonably inferred that the thing of value may have influenced their official decision-making relative to the Arena.  As you are aware, the burden of recusal rests solely with the public official.