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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?


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.

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