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The new Jack Evans is an ethics crusader.
Outside jobs for councilmembers? Gone. Constituent services funds? They’re done. The Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA)? Give it more power. Campaign finance laws? Rewrite ’em.
That’s all according to Evans’ new campaign website—a significant upgrade from the site’s original look, which featured a dated photo of the former councilmember standing at a lectern with his sleeves rolled up Obama-style and a single button that said “Donate.”
Evans’ new site features a mission statement, a biography that dates back to his election to the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (before LL was even born), and some rumination on his top issues.
A snazzy image of a “Jack Evans 2020” campaign sign adds a splash of color to the issues page, but LL noticed that something wasn’t quite right.
The campaign sign directs viewers to www.evans2020.com, a different address than Evans’ active campaign site, evansward2.com. In fact, www.evans2020.com reroutes users to a Washington Post article about federal agents raiding Evans’ Georgetown home last June.
LL reached out to the person who bought the domain but has yet to hear back. Evans also did not return LL’s phone call. He faces seven opponents in the June 2 primary—the most opposition he’s had in a Council race since he won the Ward 2 seat in 1991—and is not running in the June 16 special election to fill his vacated seat for the remainder of the year.
Back to the issues: At the top of Evans’ list this election season is coronavirus response and recovery. Evans advocates for suspending rent payments and evictions for middle- and low-income residents (the Council already banned evictions during the public health emergency), providing small businesses with grant funding (also underway), supporting the Department of Employment Services to help manage the surge in claims for benefits, as well as supporting DC Health, “which is expected to be especially challenged during this crisis.”
Education, affordable housing, public transportation, alternative transportation infrastructure, LGBTQ rights, and immigration round out Evans’ focus areas, save for one final issue: ethics reform.
Multiple investigations found that Evans violated ethics rules while serving as a councilmember and as chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Board. BEGA fined Evans $20,000 last August for business pitches he sent from his Council email address to legal and lobbying firms seeking to leverage his influence on the Council into some side work. Evans resigned from the Council just before his colleagues could take a final vote to expel him. He announced he would run to retake the Ward 2 seat about a week later.
“When it comes to my candidacy for Ward 2, it’s important to talk about ethics reform on the Council,” Evans writes on his campaign website. “I know I made mistakes and I’ve learned from them, but I want to back-up what I learned with action.”
Specifically, Evans has four suggestions:
• Ban outside jobs. Period. No exceptions.
• Abolish constituent services funds.
• Empower the BEGA with more authority and independence by taking investigations out of politicians’ hands.
• Rewrite campaign finance laws by “making sure the system is transparent and makes sense financially.”
If any of Evans’ former colleagues should have thoughts on his new platform, it’s Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh—the only current local lawmaker to still hold outside employment (she’s a professor at The George Washington University Law School) and the chairperson of the ad hoc committee that voted to kick him off the Council.
“All this ‘holier than thou’ is too much to take,” Cheh says after hearing of Evans’ proposed ethics overhaul.
Asked first about Evans’ new position that she should no longer be allowed to teach, Cheh rattled off a list of disgraced D.C. councilmembers in recent memory: Jim Graham, Harry Thomas Jr., Michael Brown, and Kwame Brown. None of their scandals had to do with outside jobs, she says. Although Evans’ scandal technically involved his outside employment, Cheh points out that “he didn’t do anything. He was taking gifts from prohibited sources. If people want to focus on corruption, they’re aiming at the wrong target.”
(Cheh reportedly makes between $100,001 and $250,000 as a law professor, according to her financial disclosure statement.)
“It isn’t an answer to what these scoundrels have done in the past,” Cheh says. “And it’s a blunderbuss response.”
Next, LL asked Cheh about Evans’ proposed abolition of constituent services funds—the slushy accounts with loose restrictions on spending that can perpetuate cozy relationships with deep pocketed donors. Cheh laughed so hard that LL had to move the phone away from his ear.
“The irony and the hypocrisy is almost too much to bear!” Cheh says. “He is Mr. Constituent Services Fund.” She points to Evans’ use of his fund to purchase Major League Baseball tickets as one example of potential abuse.
Cheh also keeps a constituent services fund, but her spending pales in comparison to Evans’, according to a 2019 report from the public watchdog nonprofit Public Citizen. Cheh’s most recent financial filing shows nearly $14,000 in the bank. About $120,600 is sitting in Evans’ fund.
Then there’s Evans’ proposed BEGA reform, which LL finds particularly interesting given that it was the Council’s investigation that ultimately forced Evans’ from office. BEGA, which was established in 2012 as an independent check on government officials, paused its investigation into Evans at request of federal law enforcement. The feds issued subpoenas to the Council and the mayor’s office, and also performed the aforementioned raid on his house, but Evans has not been charged with a crime.
BEGA’s investigation was still on hold when news of Evans’ ethics violations as chair of the WMATA board, and of his attempts to cover them up, became public. The D.C. Council then opened its investigation, which served as the basis for his near expulsion.
In February, BEGA reopened its investigation, and government officials have been negotiating a resolution with Evans’ attorney, according to BEGA’s March 5 meeting minutes. “We expect this matter to move towards a resolution very shortly,” the minutes say.
When it comes to Evans’ campaign finance reforms, Cheh finds his proposal to rewrite the laws so they “make sense financially” lacking in specificity.
“I’m so happy he’s leading the charge,” Cheh says. “That was sarcasm.”