Trying to Make Sense of NSE Consulting LLC
By Jeffrey Anderson | Illustration by Andy DelGiudice
Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans knew what he was doing when he formed a consulting firm in the summer of 2016 with long-time confidant and lobbyist N. William Jarvis.
District law permits D.C. Councilmembers to hold down second jobs, and many do. But for decades, Evans has distinguished himself among his peers by working along the margins of white-shoe law firms whose high-profile clients have business before the city.
NSE Consulting LLC is a peculiar firm. Located at Evans’ Georgetown home, where Evans serves as principal, and Jarvis as registered agent, its clients are unknown. Its reported revenue is low.
For Evans to form a small private firm with a prominent lobbyist, ethics and legal experts say, is problematic. The Council’s Official Code of Conduct says members “may not acquire an interest in a business” that they could assist by official action to benefit themselves, their family or a close associate.
Nevertheless, Evans formed NSE Consulting on July 19, 2016, and within the next two months allowed Jarvis to lobby him on multiple occasions on behalf of the Washington Nationals Baseball Team, among other high-profile clients, according to Jarvis’ lobbyist disclosure reports.
Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show Jarvis cementing his lobbyist-legislator relationship with Evans on December 5, 2016: “Councilmember Evans…Attached are talking points that Gregory McCarthy and I prepared that you might use tomorrow from the dais during any conversation about the Nationals Park Sign Legislation. Let me know if you have any questions. Thank you for your support. Bill.” (McCarthy is a vice president of the Nationals and a former deputy chief of staff to ex-Mayor Anthony Williams.)
In Council debate, Evans utilized those talking points—obtained by District Dig—and two weeks later, on December 20, voted in favor of the sign legislation, which passed by a vote of 12-1. (At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman voted against the bill.) Evans did not respond to questions from The Dig.
“I don’t know how you can form a company and then let your partner [at that company] pitch you on legislation for a client whose interest is advanced by that legislation, even if no money is exchanged,” says a former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s office. “At the least it’s an appearance of impropriety.”
The Code of Conduct requires that members declare such conflicts of interest and recuse themselves. For instance, Evans once recused himself from legislative matters pertaining to CareFirst, after a reporter questioned him about public disclosures by Patton Boggs that showed he had lobbied Congress on behalf of the health care provider for a tax break.
Similar disclosures are rare. For the better part of the last 20 years, Evans, the perennial chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue and now the Chairman of the Board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, has developed a reputation for playing it as close to the line as possible. However, with NSE Consulting, he seems to have pushed it too far, according to government watchdogs.
In addition to the Nationals Park sign legislation, Evans took action that would benefit other Jarvis clients. Jarvis visited Evans on September 20, 2017, to discuss legislation on behalf of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. Less than a month later, on October 13, Evans introduced legislation to exempt the coalition from certain property taxes, according to Council records.
That same week, Evans met again with Jarvis, who lobbied him on the threat of competition to D.C. Lottery vendor DC09 from the advent of casino gambling in Maryland, lobbyist disclosure reports show.
In all, Evans allowed Jarvis to lobby him on five separate occasions on behalf of three different clients—two of which benefited from official action he took in violation of the Code of Conduct. Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the watchdog group Public Citizen, called Evans’ actions “unethical, and problematic.”
“His business partner, his family, anyone close to him who derives benefit from his official action is an example of a conflict of interest that violates the Code of Conduct,” says Holman. (Jarvis also asked Evans for assistance on behalf of a young man who was seeking a job at WMATA, according to emails obtained by The Dig. “Jack . . . Good morning. Is there someone at WMATA who could help this young man get some answers about his attempts to get hired?” Jarvis wrote on March 30 of this year. “He is very frustrated because he simply cannot get responses. We’ll take your advice about best next steps. Thanks. Bill”)
Evans may have even bigger problems. The Dig has published numerous articles in recent months that examine his relationship with Digi Outdoor Media founder Don MacCord, who was installing digital signs in 2016 that were drawing unwanted regulatory action from the District—right about the time NSE Consulting was formed.
As The Dig has reported, Evans solicited contributions from MacCord and his associates to his constituent services fund in 2015, and political contributions to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in August 2016. He also arranged for the offer of an internship for his college-aged son. (Evans has claimed his son never took the job.)
Then, in December 2016, Evans introduced legislation that would have significantly benefited Digi Outdoor Media as MacCord and his associates lobbied Evans and the entire Council, and dumped tens of thousands of dollars into campaign and constituent services accounts.
But a more troubling connection to MacCord surfaced last week. The Washington Post reported that less than a month after the formation of NSE Consulting, Evans returned two $25,000 “initial payment checks” to MacCord that were intended to establish a business relationship.
“Dear Don,” begins a letter dated August 25, 2016. “It has come to my attention that your company is currently engaged in a potential dispute with the District of Columbia government regarding the erection of digital displays (electronic signs). This is an issue that may soon come before the Council, and is also an issue that may affect residents and businesses in Ward 2. For that reason, I think that it is best that NSE Consulting should not begin a consulting arrangement with you and your company until this issue is resolved.” The letter identifies the checks as enclosures.
The letter is intriguing for numerous reasons. For starters, Evans disclosed it to the Post only after The Dig exposed the existence of NSE Consulting. (Evans denied a request that he provide a copy of the letter, but the Post posted it on their website earlier this week. Evans also told the Post the payments were for future consulting services in jurisdictions outside the District.)
However, the letter does not appear to have a digital time stamp, and the checks have yet to surface. “We wouldn’t look at whether he gave the money back, that’s a matter of optics,” says the federal prosecutor. “The point is he formed this company and he took the money.”
The return of the checks is not the only housekeeping measure Evans has taken. Just last week, Evans made an amended filing to the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which is investigating his ties to MacCord and NSE Consulting. Turns out that though Evans disclosed the formation of his company in 2016, he failed to make a similar disclosure for 2017. On May 3, he filed an amended report that listed NSE Consulting as a source of non-District employment for the calendar year 2016—not 2017.
As in his initial filing, Evans discloses an income between $50,000 and $100,000. But he has yet to disclose the names of his clients or the matters he worked on, telling the Post that the information is protected by the attorney-client privilege.
*This post has been updated to reflect the date that NSE Consulting LLC was formed.