Jeffrey Anderson, Washington Times, March 2, 2011
A D.C. Council member who represents some of the city’s poorest households has spent less than 5 percent of the money she has raised since 2007 to help constituents with urgent needs, such as funeral expenses, rent and utilities, a review of campaign finance records shows.
Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat who sponsored a 2009 bill to double the amount council members can raise for their constituent services fund, has spent the bulk of the money she raised from businesses, labor unions, lobbyists and others on catering, consultants, advertising and supplies for community events and fundraisers, the records show.
And unlike many of her colleagues, Ms. Alexander has declined to provide receipts or invoices that would justify thousands of dollars in recent expenditures from the fund.
Ms. Alexander has raised more than $120,000 for constituent services over the past three years, according to quarterly reports she is required to file with the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF). Of that total, records show she spent more than $69,000–at least 57 percent–on consultants and events.
Her reports further show that her office spent in excess of $44,000–at least 36 percent–on rent, telephone service, utilities, computer expenses and equipment to maintain a privately leased office that she also used for a campaign office on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast. Ms. Alexander is the only member to have leased office space with constituent service funds, despite a law that requires the city to provide rent-free space to council members for such purposes.
Past-due rent of an unspecified amount and an unpaid telephone bill totaling $5,388 forced her to shutter that office last month, as The Washington Times recently reported, while she relocates to a nearby office in a D.C. government building.
Of the remaining funds, bank fees, petty cash and postage accounted for roughly $2,700, with more than $3,700–just 3 percent of the total funds raised–described on her reports as “other.” Among expenditures labeled “other” are a $200 payment to a funeral home, a $172 payment to a florist and a handful of unspecified payments to Ward 7 residents.
Those figures are out of step with Ms. Alexanders colleagues on the council.
“Based on your expenditure report, it is not clear how the residents are benefiting from this program,” wrote Jackie Pinckney-Hackett, a Ward 7 activist and former director of the D.C. school system’s Office of Parent and Community Involvement, in a recent e-mail to Ms. Alexander. “This concerns us greatly.”
Residents and community leaders also are becoming frustrated that Ms. Alexander has refused to disclose details about her constituent expenditures or delinquent bills at her office space, which she leased from D.C. developer and former Ward 7 council member H.R. Crawford.
“The numbers don’t look good,” said Mr. Johnson, a former Ward 7 council candidate. “People believed that the lion’s share of that money was for residents in dire need.”
Ms. Alexander declined to comment on the funds or respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for the information, ordering a Times reporter to “get out of my office.”
The constituent services program enables council members to hold fundraisers and raise up to $80,000 a year to help residents in need and host community activities. That limit was doubled in 2009 as a result of legislation sponsored by Ms. Alexander.
The fundraisers often attract donors with business before the city, similar to campaign fundraisers but with an important distinction: Excess campaign funds can be rolled into constituent services accounts, but constituent services funds may not be used for campaign activities.
D.C. law requires council members to keep detailed records of all expenditures of constituent services funds, including receipts and invoices, for three years from the date they file their reports to the OCF. But the OCF says it requires council members to produce receipts only when it asks for them or when a random audit is conducted.
With the exception of Ms. Alexander, council offices have been willing to describe their record-keeping procedures. Many said they make detailed information available to the public on request.
In January 2010, OCF hearing officer William O. Sanford, now the office’s general counsel, suspended a $900 fine against Ms. Alexander for the failure of her treasurer, Derek Ford, to file a timely report. Mr. Sanford concluded that Mr. Ford’s other work demands were the cause of the late filing.
Last month, the OCF also said it would hold an “informal” hearing as a result of another failure by Ms. Alexander’s office to meet the deadline for filing her quarterly constituent services fund report.