Four years ago, D.C. Council members Marion Barry and Michael A. Brown paid Democratic fundraiser Hakim Sutton a combined $50,000 or so for his work for nine months as a consultant for their respective campaigns, campaign records show.
In this year’s campaign, as Brown seeks a second term, finance reports list no direct payments to Sutton, who claims he’s been working for the campaign as its treasurer and senior strategist since last summer.
The discrepancy seems to lend support to Sutton’s claims that some of the more than $100,000 that Brown claims Sutton stole from the campaign over the past year was actually paid to him as salary with Brown’s blessing.
Over the weekend, the Office of Campaign Finance released an audit detailing 34 checks written totaling $113,950 that were made out by Sutton and signed by him.
In response, Sutton’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, acknowledged to The Washington Post on Monday that his client had taken some of the money as salary under the direction and supervision of Brown. But Gordon alleges that Brown requested that the payments to Sutton not be listed on campaign finance forms to inflate his cash on hand totals to scare away potential rivals.
Asher Corson, a Brown spokesman, calls Gordon’s claim “totally false,” noting that it would be unusual for a local political strategist to collect a six-figure salary from a candidate.
But it would be also unusual that Sutton would have received no reported payment for his services. In finance reports Brown filed for his 2012 campaign last year and earlier this year, Brown did not report any direct payments to Sutton. Only two weeks ago, after he went public with his fears that a “substantial” amount of money was missing from the campaign, did Brown amend his June 10 campaign reports to list $113,500 in “unexplained” expenditures to Sutton.
Gordon said the lack of initial disclosure to OCF backs up his assertion that Brown and Sutton had agreed that his salary be paid off the books.
“There is no way, especially with someone with his experience, that my client was” working for free, Gordon said. “He was the entire Michael Brown team. Where are the checks on the campaign finance report if it were not for Mr. Brown’s express instructions? ... It was not reported because Michael Brown told him.”
In an interview, Corson said he could “not explain” why no payments to Sutton showed up on campaign finance reports until this month.
“You are asking us to explain why [Sutton] chose to explain things as he did at the time” on campaign records, said Corson, noting that Sutton prepared the finance reports. “Frankly, you should be asking him that. He is the one who filed those reports.”
Corson added that Sutton never filed documents with the campaign that would warrant a salary.
“Our former treasurer never submitted a single invoice, therefore the payments he made to himself couldn’t possibly be legitimate,” Corson said.
But in several past campaigns, Sutton appeared to take in as much as $10,000 a month in consulting fees from clients, according to campaign finance records.
In 2008, Barry paid Sutton $47,369 in consulting records from March through October of that year for work done on his reelection campaign.
The same year, Brown paid Sutton $3,800 in September and October for consulting work leading up to the November election, records show. Brown’s 2008 campaign also paid Sutton $1,500 in March 2009.
A year before that campaign, when Brown unsuccessfully ran for the Ward 4 council seat, the Brown campaign paid Sutton $13,500 between January and May 2007, according to records.
While the past payments to Sutton do not appear to justify a six-figure salary in the current campaign, Gordon said his client and Brown had an “exclusivity” agreement that resulted in a higher level of payment than previous campaigns. Among other responsibilities, including running the Brown campaign from Sutton’s home for much of the past year, Gordon said his client was tasked with helping Brown raise as much as $700,000.
Gordon declined to provide documentation of the agreement to The Washington Post, but said his client is cooperating with D.C. police and the U.S. attorney’s office.
“I am not disclosing anything until I see what (authorities) produce,” Gordon said. “When the time is right, I will produce records.”
Meanwhile, the investigation continues to fuel Brown’s opponents in the Nov. 6 election.
“If you can’t take care of your own money in your campaign account ... then how can you expect to be in charge of workforce development, economic development?” asked Cooper, an independent who works as a policy director at the D.C Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. “How can you be in charge of a $10.4 billion budget?”
Corson responded: “People care about their own lives, not Michael Brown’s life. ... His record of serving all residents in the community, business groups, workers, community groups, is strong.”