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Disclosure Requirements Weak For D.C. Officials Involved With Nonprofits

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D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown is under fire for not disclosing potential conflicts of interest stemming from his wife's city-funded non-profit work.
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D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown is under fire for not disclosing potential conflicts of interest stemming from his wife's city-funded non-profit work.

The D.C. Council is promising to tackle ethics reform when it returns from recess next month. Among the changes are likely to be stricter reporting requirements for potential conflicts of interest.

In May of 2010, the wife of Council Chairman Kwame Brown was hired by the H Street Community Development Corporation.

Four months later, that nonprofit group -- which had not received any city funds in years -- won a $138,000 grant from the District government.

The agency that awarded the grant, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, is one of Brown's oversight responsibilities.

H Street CDC says there's no connection with council chair

H Street CDC's Executive Director Kenneth Brewer denies any connection between Marcia Brown's hiring and the grant.

"There has been no influence peddling to get a grant of $138,000," says Brewer. "There have been opportunities with the government that we decided not to bid on for that very reason because people's imagination conjures up some relationship between the chairman of the council and the H Street Community Development Corporation."

Brewer says Mr. Brown's name was not on grant application and adds the amount is small and doesn't cover anyone's salary.

Finally, he says Mrs. Brown, a former teacher, works on projects such as a student trip to China.

"Mrs. Brown does not work on anything related to government," says Brewer.

WAMU also found that Mrs. Brown was listed as a representative of H Street CDC at this year's International Council of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas [PDF], a major conference for developers and city officials.

The meeting was a major draw for city officials and business leaders; Mayor Vincent Gray attended the conference and held meetings with high-profile retail outlets such as Wegman's and Wal-Mart.

Brewer says Mrs. Brown did not attend the May meeting because of a scheduling conflict.

Disclosure of conflicts of Interest

By law, officials in D.C. have to file a yearly financial disclosure form. They're specifically asked if their spouses work for any "businesses entities" that do work for the city government.

Asked why he didn't disclose his wife's employment, Chairman Brown said he didn't have to because H Street CDC is a nonprofit. The Office of Campaign Finance doesn't consider nonprofits to be business entities.

Brown isn't alone. The wife of council member Harry Thomas works for the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, a group that has received more than $1 million in grants and write-offs from the city over the past few years. Thomas does not list her employment on disclosure forms.

Chairman Brown says in the future, disclosure requirements will include nonprofit organizations.

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