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Every D.C. councilmember gets two great seats for Nationals games at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. The 13 reps and their guests enjoy wait service, a perch above home plate, and shelter from the elements. It’s one of the city’s most coveted perks.
And for any given game, an enterprising councilmember can scrounge up enough unused tickets from colleagues to entertain a half-dozen friends and supporters.
But the council seats aren’t good enough for Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans.
On game days, you’ll find Evans in the front row—right next to the visiting-team dugout on the first-base side. He has four season-ticket seats in this prime spot.
It’s not that Evans scoffs at the freebie seats accorded to D.C. politicos. “The council seats are perfectly fine,” he says. He’s just a real baseball fan, one who prefers the buzz of being among the people to the comfort and status of the city box. That preference came at a price of $14,060 this season.
Lucky for Evans, he didn’t pay for the seats. According to a July 31 Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) filing, the D.C. Fund, Evans’ political action committee (PAC), picked up the tab this past spring.
The PAC was created in 1991 to advance Evans’ political agenda. Over the years, it has contributed to politicians and supported national and local Democratic Party functions. It also covers some of Evans’ government-related travel expenses.
If “the D.C. Fund” sounds like a generic name for a PAC, don’t blame Evans. He formerly called it “the Jack PAC,” a far more lively moniker. But then, earlier this year, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) encouraged Evans to take the “Jack” out of the PAC. The OCF argued that some donors might confuse the Jack PAC with the councilmember’s constituent-services fund.
If city authorities had insisted on truth-in-labeling standards, Evans’ PAC would get another new name: “Jack’s Sports Adventure Fund.”
The PAC’s most recent financial report shows why. Of the $27,443.84 disbursed from the D.C. Fund during the Feb. 1–July 31 reporting period, $21,264.08 went for sports-related activities.
The groundwork for a successful big-league political season began in the spring. According to the OCF filing, on March 8 the D.C. Fund cut a $1,325.73 check to the Nationals for “D.C. Nationals’ Spring Training Activities.” Evans went down to Viera, Fla., to meet players, catch a game, and mingle with fans who made the trek.
A second March 8 entry for $496.89 is described as “Reimbursement for airfare to attend budget meetings.” Generally the councilmember drives from his Georgetown home to the council offices on Pennsylvania Avenue. But when you’re at Space Coast Stadium catching rays and foul balls, performing your job as chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue requires a longer commute. D.C. Fund Treasurer David Julyan will not confirm that the flight reimbursement was for a return-trip ticket from spring training in Florida.
After spring training and an unbelievably hot first half of the season for the Nationals, Evans wasn’t about to miss the year’s biggest out-of-town baseball celebration. A July 14 report expenditure for $816.46 was titled; “Reimbursement for expenses incurred during All-star trip.”
Things haven’t gone so well for the Nationals since the All-Star break. As of Aug. 10, the team had lost 22 of 30 post–All-Star games and dropped from first place in the National League East. If the Nats’ losing ways continue, they won’t be playing deep into October.
No worries for the council’s premier sports fan, however. Come winter, there’s another venue, another must-see team, and another convenient PAC expenditure.
On March 11, the D.C. Fund shelled out $4,565 to Abe Pollin’s Washington Sports and Entertainment Inc. The purpose: “Purchase of season Wizard tickets.” Evans won’t say how many good seats $4,565 buys you.
From a legal standpoint, there is nothing wrong with Evans’ sports-spending binge. But D.C. United officials must feel as if the equal-time doctrine has been violated. Perhaps the D.C. Fund doesn’t think a club that brought four Major League Soccer championships to the District over nine years meshes with the Evans political program.
Evans is missing out on a bargain. Four mezzanine-level seats for the 18 United home games would have set the D.C. Fund back only $2,160. Now we know why Freddy Adu feels underappreciated.
Evans gets testy when asked about funding for his sports fandom. “What’s important is, what we are doing is legal,” Evans says. He refuses to list who has attended games with him or used his tickets. “That’s none of your business,” he says. “My responsibility is to report who contributes and report what we have spent, [and] that is exactly what we have done.”
Under OCF rules, Evans is barred from having any direct involvement with the D.C. Fund, and he’s tight-lipped when asked about specific expenditures. Perhaps the fund’s ESPN-themed disbursements are inspired by its chair, attorney William Hall. Hall is a huge baseball booster and serves on the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission’s board of directors. Hall didn’t answer requests for comment.
Evans is the only councilmember to maintain a PAC. All the contributions and expenditures reported by his treasurers over the years have been perfectly legal. The PAC has always reported on time. And it has actually supported causes other than spectator sports: It paid $500 to Evans’ fellow Democrat and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the District of Columbia member Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, $500 for a Gay and Lesbian Action Alliance reception, and $150 apiece to two ward Democratic organizations, among other recipients.
Evans argues that some of the spending on travel to sporting events was for government business that the city would normally pay for. Mayor Anthony A. Williams traveled to the All-Star game on the District’s dime. “You get a lot of criticism for spending taxpayers’ dollars,” Evans says.
Plus, who’s to say Evans isn’t working on behalf of the public during those one-run squeakers at RFK? What better way to hash out the nuances of property-tax reform, a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, or new regulations that might hurt business than over a three-hour ballgame? At least when the Nats are at the plate, Evans and his pals won’t have to worry about missing any action.
Maybe the seats remind Evans of the good old days on the D.C. Council. After all, former Councilmembers Kevin Chavous and Harold Brazil—who voted for the baseball-stadium plan after being thrown out by voters in the 2004 Democratic primary—have been seen in the same section as the Ward 2 rep.
And just who is bankrolling Evans’ sports jones? The list of folks who responded to Hall’s 2005 appeal for D.C. Fund contributions are fairly predictable Evans backers: Big developers, downtown parking companies, and lobbyists for helped push the total 2005 collections to $41,700.
None of those folks, however, did as much as Van Wagner Communications Inc., which on June 27 contributed $10,000 to the PAC.
Van Wagner owns 15 of the 32 billboards that are allowed in the District under a 2001 law Evans moved through the council. The signs went up in the ’90s despite a citywide billboard ban. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which regulates signs, was in chaos at the time. Some residents wanted the city to enforce a total ban, but Evans’ Special Signs Amendment Act of 2001 made sure the existing wall signs and billboards outside of downtown stayed in place.
The company’s vice president, Ray Sipperley, calls the $10,000 contribution “a way to give back to the city.” “We try to give back to the community, be it through charity or political candidates,” he says. “That’s the just the way we do business.”
The D.C. Fund is a convenient place for caring companies such as Van Wagner to make a big statement. Under D.C. law, companies and individuals can contribute only $2,000 to a candidate during each election cycle—$1,000 for the primary and another $1,000 for the general election. OCF Chief Counsel Renee Bunn says there is “no limit” on contributions for PACs.
That’s beneficial in a year when hobnobbing at expensive sporting events seems to be a priority. And Evans makes no secret of what was behind this season’s appeal to friends and supporters.
“We needed to raise enough money to pay for the baseball and basketball.”
•Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty recently served as the star speaker at an event custom-made to give a pat on the back to Mayor Williams. The mayor’s office had a lot to do with the successful opening of the new U Street clothing boutique called Destination U. In 2003, the Mayor’s Restore D.C. program plopped down $134,000 for the 14th and U Business Association—the group that provided financial and technical assistance to the team opening the store. That outfit includes Kenneth Barnes—whose son Kenny Jr. ran a U Street clothing store before he was killed in robbery attempt. Barnes let Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Stanley Jackson cut the ribbon, but the big speech went to Fenty, who wisely praised Barnes and avoided any reference to himself. Barnes, who runs an anti-violence group and has thrown his support behind Fenty’s mayoral bid, says he invited all of the city’s politicians to the opening. “Adrian just happened to be there during the ceremony,” he says. —James Jones
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