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D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust

January 27, 2012

On Tuesday January 17, 2012 the D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust filed the necessary paperwork with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to place an initiative on the November 6, 2012 ballot that would seek to ban corporate donations to all future political campaigns, constituent services funds, legal defense funds and transition and inaugural committees.

The 100-word summary presented to DCBOEE reads as follows:

This ballot initiative is to restore the public trust by eliminating the outsized influence corporate money has in District of Columbia government and elections by prohibiting direct contributions from corporations to elected officials and candidates for public office. This measure would align D.C. with federal law, which bans direct corporate contributions to public officials and candidates. Although D.C. law has individual contribution limits, corporations can exceed these amounts by creating multiple entities that shield the individual owner. Current law also allows corporations with city contracts to contribute directly to elected officials who approve these contracts, creating conflicts of interest.

The Committee must present its case to the DCBOEE on whether or not this is a valid ballot initiative on February 13.

We’re still working on our own website and should have it up and running soon, but in the meantime if you want to contact us, we’re on Twitter at @dcpublictrust on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dcpublictrust or you can send us an email at dcpublictrust@gmail.com.

You can also donate to our effort too by clicking here. You’ll be taken to our page on Democracy Engine which is a nonpartisan fundraising tool for political campaigns.

Testimony on ethics 11.30

December 19, 2011

Testimony of Bryan Weaver

Council of the District of Columbia

Government Operations Committee

Muriel Bowser, chairwoman

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Councilmember Bowser and members of the Government Operations Committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak today. My name is Bryan Weaver.

To quote that great American statesman Yogi Berra, this is like déjà vu all over again. A little over a month ago I sat before this same committee testifying about ethics — or lack thereof, in the District.

And now, here we are once again only this time we have an actual bill to discuss. Unfortunately though, because this bill fails to address so many of the fundamental ethical problems facing this council, much of the conversation will be the same.

With years of ethics lapses and outright corruption charges aimed at members of the Council of the District of Columbia the distrust of D.C. residents toward their elected government is coming home to roost at the John A. Wilson building.

The Council is now offering concessions in the hope of easing the unprecedented anger at this crisis in the form of a weak ethics law that punts the ball down field to another layer of district bureaucracy — albeit a needed bureaucracy. The D.C. Council legislation would establish an ethics panel, slash how much money council members can raise to help “constituents” and require stricter reporting of outside income and potential conflicts.

However, most good government advocates seem unwilling, to give up their demand for a radical overhaul of the District’s ethics and campaign laws. The Council is trying to do just enough to buy more time, but that won’t satisfy the masses.

The Council’s legislation seeks to respond narrowly to several questions that have been raised this year concerning the alleged actions of some city leaders and government staffers.

Council members, would be required to file an annual affidavit in which they will have to certify they paid all of their taxes and had not “been offered or accepted any bribes” or engaged in any “pay to play schemes” — all things that are obvious to any member to the general public, but somehow has to be reiterated to our government representatives.

Most important though, this legislation fails enact any real protections against a “pay-to-play” politics or the corrupting influence of money on local government from certain individuals and entities doing or seeking business with the city to make contributions to candidates for office as well as to transition and inaugural entities.

District law (§ 1-1131.02) allows corporate contributions up to $500 for ward races, $1,000 for at-large and $2,000 for mayor per year. But this limit is a political “Three-card Monte”. Each subsidiary Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) is able to make contributions on its own up to the limit. Consequently, businesses with subsidiary LLCs can and do multiply their influence by bundling gifts.

In preparation for this testimony, I set out to prove my point using you, Councilmember Bowser — one of the few members of this body not to suffer from the taint of scandal — as an example of how even the most (pious, clean, ethical) councilmember can turn a blind eye to the laws of the District

What I discovered was even more distressing.

So far this campaign cycle you have taken $1500 from Capital Construction Enterprises located at 1330 Locust Road, NW [$500 6/10/2011, $500 7/26/2011 and $500 10/6/2011].

Working under the assumption that Capital Construction was an LLC because of the multiple donations, I headed to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to determine the make-up of the company.

I knew nothing whatsoever about Capital Construction other than they and partner companies with the same address have made thousands in donations to many candidates throughout the District for years.

What I discovered is that Capital Construction is not an LLC — which if it had three partners, would have, within the law, given you some legal wiggle room — but a sole proprietorship meaning that your campaign is in violation of the existing law — twice.

What’s even more alarming? Capital’s business license was revoked by the District in June 2011.

In addition, another company registered at this address gave Councilmember Jim Graham $2100 in 2010. That company, Millenium [sic] had its license to do business in the District revoked in 2005.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If I attempted to ascertain the make-up of each corporation making donations to a District candidate, I would have to spend more than $60,000 [it costs more than $25 to view each page of organizations and businesses organized in the District of Columbia] to get the information from DCRA.

That’s an incredibly steep price to pay for “public information”.

And unless I file a complaint with the Office of Campaign Finance, this will go nowhere beyond this room.

All this contributes to the culture of “pay to play.” And because it is within the law, our leaders in D.C. think it’s just how you do business. That it is ok.  It is not.  In fact, this moral lethargy leads to perceptions of impropriety, if not outright corruption.

Big money diminishes accountability, transparency and inclusiveness in our government.  It determines who runs for office and where those candidates stand on the issues.

Money should not determine how our elected officials spend their time in the Wilson Building.  Issues facing the city should do that.  Problems facing the residents should come first.

Many of our council members may have their hearts in the right place, but how they fund their campaigns raises serious questions about where their priorities may be.

And you too Council member Bowser, I believe your heart was in the right place with this legislation, unfortunately the ethical crises facing elected officials in the District of Columbia isn’t about heart. It’s about the law.

Campaign Finance

We must create a “Doing Business With” database to ensure that no company, its subsidiary LLCs or nonprofit currently doing business with the District of Columbia — government contract, government relief (tax abatement, zoning relief, etc.) — or seeking to do business with the District, be permitted to make donations to a principle political campaign or constituent services fund.

Although already prohibited under current District law (§ 1-1131.02), we must enforce and streamline the language that makes it clear that Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) are not permitted to bundle thousands of dollars in donations to candidates and constituent services funds.

Prohibit any registered lobbyist or member of their immediate family from making donations to a principle campaign committee or constituent services fund.

Council Employment

Councilmembers should be prohibited from holding outside jobs other than to serve in voluntary roles on nonprofits that do not do business with the city (do not receive city funding in any capacity).

Council Rules

No elected official or their immediate family members shall accept gifts of travel — foreign or domestic — from any entity, whether said entity has business before the city or not.

Constituent Service Funds should be limited to $10,000 per year and the rules of distribution should be severely limited to only cover emergency situations such as assistance with funeral expenses and assistance with utility expenses. A uniform, simple application should be created to assist with reporting.

Council license plates will no longer exempt cars registered to councilmembers to be exempt from ticketing for illegal parking other than within zoned areas and at parking meters (licensed council cars would be permitted to park in any zone parking and at parking meters without paying without impunity.

Elected officials will be prohibited from receiving free and/or discounted tickets to sporting events, concerts, and the performing arts.

Independent Budget Agency

Much like the Congressional Budget Office employed by the federal government, the District must create an independent budget agency that reports back to both the Council and the Mayor on the fiscal impacts of all proposed legislation. While this agency would report to both the Council and Mayor, it would be fully independent.

Sunshine Laws

While the District government has come a long way with opens meetings and Sunshine laws, there is still an incredibly long way to go to make our government as open and transparent as possible.

In addition to creating a “Doing Business With” database — available publicly and online — the District needs to make all public filings, most especially the incorporation of LLCs available free of charge and online for public review.  Without free and easy public access to official filings — from building permits to ABC licenses to LLC incorporations — an air of unethical mystery shrouds the District.

The Office of Campaign Finance must require that all candidates electronically submit their campaign finance reports (as opposed to PDF versions, which some currently do) in order for all campaign finance reports to be easily, publicly searchable.

Anytime there is a legislative, fiduciary or rule-making conversation between elected officials or appointed officials, that conversation should be held openly.  Rule-making decisions should not be held behind closed doors with only the final ruling being made publicly available. Residents of the District have the right to know how a decision is made, not just the final result. Obvious exceptions to this would be personnel matters, but personnel matters should be the only exceptions.

Post op-ed piece on ethics reform

November 7, 2011

The ethics reform that D.C. needs most

The Post asked Tom Sherwood, William P. Lightfoot, Dorothy Brizill, Muriel Bowser, Martin Austermuhle, Bryan Weaver, Robert Kabel and Kathy Patterson: What is the most important thing that can be done to improve the level of ethics in D.C. government?

BRYAN WEAVER

D.C. activist and former D.C. Council candidate

The District’s center of power is built on a culture of passing paper-tiger laws: grand, powerful — full of sound and fury — but doing nothing. Instead of the District’s power brokers working to understand and follow existing law, city leaders focus on how to game the system and exploit loopholes. What’s the use of passing laws if you’re going to look the other way?

For instance: D.C. law limits the amount limited liability corporations (LLCs) can give to candidates. Research I have done suggests that a number of D.C. Council members routinely flout this law by taking thousands or tens of thousands of dollars above the legal limit from LLC partners. But citizens do not have access to information on an LLC’s structure; therefore it is impossible to present a case to the Office of Campaign Finance. And, besides, the Office of Campaign Finance has expressed little interest in doing its duty to enforce this provision.

It is time for a swift, harsh and radical overhaul of the city’s culture and conduct. Time to push the long arc of good government for D.C. toward sunlight. We need clear lines of what is permissible, not another layer of bureaucracy.

Testimony on ethics before Council committee

November 7, 2011

Testimony of Bryan Weaver
Council of the District of Columbia
Government Operations Committee
Muriel Bowser, chairwoman
Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Councilmember Bowser and members of the Government Operations Committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak today. My name is Bryan Weaver.

Having run two grassroots political campaigns within a year, I have a unique, up-close and personal view of how our city’s ethics rules work and more often…how they don’t.

In recent years and months we’ve heard many people, from local media to political pundits to average citizens talk about the government of the District of Columbia facing an ethics “crisis.”

Unfortunately it’s worse than that. Lack of ethics rules and weak penalties for violations are a cancer eating at the heart of the District of Columbia.

And like cancer, we need to do all that we can to prevent ethics violations from happening in the first place with straightforward laws and regulations; and if they do happen, just like cancer, we need to aggressively go after the problem with all available resources.

Some of the cure for the ethics cancer is already on the books and some of it needs to introduced as new laws, but one thing is clear: One of you, just one member of the Council of the District of Columbia needs to stand up and publicly say “enough” and not only introduce tough rules and regulations, but to practice what they preach and stop taking bundled donations from corporations, to stop accepting event tickets, stop parking with impunity, stop working a secondary job. Stop.

You must stop in order to start moving forward to an ethical, respected Council.

Drastically and radically it is time to save D.C.  The time has come to cut the cancer out.

Former Councilmember Sekou Biddle would often say on the campaign trail that we don’t need more ethics laws, we need to start electing ethical people.

And Councilmember Bowser, you are on the record subscribing to a notion popular among this body that says ethics reform entails enforcing laws currently on the books.

And in an ideal world I agree with both your and Mr. Biddle’s views.  And there are some truths to those notions — but in this climate it is more an avoidance strategy than anything resembling ethics reform.

The culture of this building is built on laws that are paper tigers: grand, powerful — full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.

Look at District law (§ 1-1131.02) that limits the amount that Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) can give to candidates.  Each one of the members of this committee is in violation of this code. But because of a complete lack of Sunlight, no citizen has access to the make up of the LLC — as is required by the law — and therefore it is next to impossible to present a case to the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF). And if the OCF should happen to receive a complaint against a campaign, the office rarely chooses to enforce this provision.

Everybody does it so it’s okay. What’s the use of passing laws if you’re going to look the other way? Understand them, follow them. Instead this city focuses on how to game the system and exploit loopholes.

It is time for a swift and harsh radical overhaul of the city’s culture and conduct to swing the long arc of good government for DC toward the sunlight. We need clear lines of what is permissible and not another layer of bureaucracy.

It is time to turn over the Wilson Building and start shaking.

Campaign Finance
We must create a “Doing Business With” database to ensure that no company, its subsidiary LLCs or nonprofit currently doing business with the District of Columbia — government contract, government relief (tax abatement, zoning relief, etc.) — or seeking to do business with the District, be permitted to make donations to a principle political campaign or constituent services fund.

Although already prohibited under current District law (§ 1-1131.02), we must enforce and streamline the language that makes it clear that Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) are not permitted to bundle thousands of dollars in donations to candidates and constituent services funds.

Prohibit any registered lobbyist or member of their immediate family from making donations to a principle campaign committee or constituent services fund.

Council Employment
Councilmembers should be prohibited from holding outside jobs other than to serve in voluntary roles on nonprofits that do not do business with the city (do not receive city funding in any capacity).

Council Rules
No elected official or their immediate family members shall accept gifts of travel — foreign or domestic — from any entity, whether said entity has business before the city or not.

Constituent Service Funds should be limited to $10,000 per year and the rules of distribution should be severely limited to only cover emergency situations such as assistance with funeral expenses and assistance with utility expenses. A uniform, simple application should be created to assist with reporting.

Council license plates will no longer exempt cars registered to councilmembers to be exempt from ticketing for illegal parking other than within zoned areas and at parking meters (licensed council cars would be permitted to park in any zone parking and at parking meters without paying without impunity.

Elected officials will be prohibited from receiving free and/or discounted tickets to sporting events, concerts, and the performing arts.

Independent Budget Agency
Much like the Congressional Budget Office employed by the federal government, the District must create an independent budget agency that reports back to both the Council and the Mayor on the fiscal impacts of all proposed legislation. While this agency would report to both the Council and Mayor, it would be fully independent.

Sunshine Laws
While the District government has come a long way with opens meetings and Sunshine laws, there is still an incredibly long way to go to make our government as open and transparent as possible.

In addition to creating a “Doing Business With” database — available publicly and online — the District needs to make all public filings, most especially the incorporation of LLCs available free of charge and online for public review.  Without free and easy public access to official filings — from building permits to ABC licenses to LLC incorporations — an air of unethical mystery shrouds the District.

The Office of Campaign Finance must require that all candidates electronically submit their campaign finance reports (as opposed to PDF versions, which some currently do) in order for all campaign finance reports to be easily, publicly searchable.

Anytime there is a legislative, fiduciary or rule-making conversation between elected officials or appointed officials, that conversation should be held openly.  Rule-making decisions should not be held behind closed doors with only the final ruling being made publicly available. Residents of the District have the right to know how a decision is made, not just the final result. Obvious exceptions to this would be personnel matters, but personnel matters should be the only exceptions.

Thank you

April 27, 2011

I want to thank all of you that poured your hearts into my campaign.

Thank you to all my volunteers, I am humbled by your support.

Many Washingtonians are ready for change.

Do not give up, stand up, keep fighting.

¡La lucha continua!

And now we wait…

April 26, 2011

Bryan chats with voters outside of a polling place on election day.

The polls in the special election for At-Large Councilmember have now officially closed! What an exhausting and exhilarating day it has been! And the response from voters at the polls and passersby on the street has been so encouraging. My message of oversight, accountability and reform really seemed to resonate with people all across the city. 

Although words cannot really express it, I want to thank each and very person who helped get us to this point from the bottom of my heart. Whether it was drafting me to run, canvassing, making calls, making a donation or sending emails of support, the outpouring I experienced from residents all over D.C. was overwhelming.

According to the DCBOEE, the first results should be in before 9:30pm tonight (in-person absentee voting) with  more results coming between 9:30 pm and midnight. The Board was also wise to point out that in a close race, we may not know the results for 10 days because absentee, provisional and curbside votes will not be counted until May 6.

So now we wait…together.

Today is Election Day! Vote for Bryan Weaver

April 26, 2011

This is it! Today is the day to cast your ballot for Bryan Weaver for the special At-Large Councilmember election.

Polls are open from 7a.m. to 8p.m.

Not sure where your polling place is? Click here.

Not registered to vote in the District? No problem! Just bring documentation with proof of residency (driver’s license, lease, utility bill) and you can register and vote at your local polling place today.

Requested an absentee ballot? Make sure it gets post-marked by 8p.m. today and your vote will count!

Thank you for your support and your vote!