AG Racine Receives Expert Recommendations on Combatting Public Corruption in the District

Former Federal Prosecutor Jonathan Kravis Provides Roadmap for OAG Public Corruption Unit

WASHINGTON, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that highly-regarded former federal prosecutor Jonathan Kravis has provided recommendations that will guide the creation of a new public corruption unit at the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). Kravis joined OAG in April 2020 for a three-month assignment to assess how the office could combat local public corruption, including campaign finance violations, bribery, fraud, and misuse of government resources. The District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction in the United States that does not have some authority other than the local U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate and prosecute local public corruption offenses. AG Racine has now received Kravis’s analysis of the District’s authority to enforce local anti-corruption laws, legislative reforms that could strengthen and expand that authority, and next steps that will allow the office to stand up a new public corruption team to ensure public confidence in government.

“The District is the only place in the United States where residents must rely exclusively on the federal government to decide which local anti-corruption laws are enforced and which are not,” said AG Racine. “We need a locally-accountable prosecutor to investigate and charge local offenses that impact the integrity of government services and undermine public trust. Jonathan’s well-researched recommendations will assist the D.C. Council in supporting OAG’s efforts to bring additional prosecutorial resources to bear to deter public corruption.”

Federal law leaves much public corruption enforcement to the states. However, the District of Columbia currently lacks a local prosecutor’s office that enforces the public corruption statutes in the D.C. Code. AG Racine hired Kravis to find ways that OAG could fill this local enforcement gap and complement the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

To create a roadmap for an effective public corruption unit at OAG, Kravis conducted a review of other Attorney General’s offices, interviewed staff who work on public corruption issues across the country, and consulted with OAG employees and with officials across District government. He also conducted extensive legal research to determine sources of authority for OAG and identify areas for future legislative reform.

Based on his research, Kravis described multiple paths forward for public corruption work at OAG, pointing to existing laws the office can begin enforcing immediately and suggesting long-term legislative fixes by the D.C. Council and Congress to bolster OAG’s effectiveness in fighting corruption. Specifically, Kravis identified:

  • OAG’s existing criminal legal authority: The D.C. Code includes several criminal public corruption statutes that OAG currently has the authority to charge. These include campaign finance violations and certain election crimes, such as submitting false referendum or recall petitions.
  • OAG’s existing civil enforcement authority: OAG has the authority to challenge fraud that takes government resources under the False Claims Act. For example, OAG already uses its authority under the False Claims Act to file suit against non-residents who fraudulently enroll their children in District schools. OAG could use this same authority to combat public corruption, by, for example, taking action against a contractor who bribes a District government official to secure payment on a false invoice.
  • Potential local legislation to enhance OAG’s enforcement authority: The D.C. Council can enhance OAG’s enforcement authority by passing legislation to authorize criminal prosecutions for violations of certain provisions of the D.C. Code. The Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA) has already recommended that the Council pass legislation to give OAG the authority to bring criminal prosecutions for violations of the conflict of interest statute and the contingency fee statute, and OAG has proposed legislation to the Council that would enact BEGA’s recommendations.
  • Potential Congressional legislation to enhance OAG’s enforcement authority: Congress can authorize OAG to prosecute D.C. Code corruption offenses, including the D.C. Code bribery statute, through federal legislation.

In addition to identifying opportunities to enforce existing law and make legislative changes, Kravis made recommendations about next steps OAG could take to stand up an effective public corruption unit, including hiring an experienced section chief and building partnerships with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and District government agencies including the Office of the Inspector General, BEGA, the Board of Elections, and the Office of Campaign Finance. He also suggested building a pipeline of cases through referrals from other agencies. Kravis’s recommendations, based on his years of experience and research, include best practices for avoiding politicization and conflicts of interests to ensure unbiased application of public corruption laws in the District.

OAG has asked the Council to expand its public corruption authority and has sought Council approval to hire a section chief. The section chief will use Kravis’s recommendations as a blueprint to begin OAG’s efforts to eradicate public corruption, and existing OAG lawyers and investigators will help get the section off the ground this fall.