Eleanor Holmes Norton starts giving her Jeffrey Thompson money away


Norton has been reticent to return campaign contributions absent criminal charges. (The Washington Post)

For 11 months, it has been common knowledge that something is awful fishy about the campaign donations bundled by businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson.

While Thursday’s guilty plea from an employee of Thompson’s former accounting firm laid bare the scope of the straw donor scheme, it was known as far back as last July — after the guilty plea of close Thompson associate Jeanne Clarke Harris — that Thompson stood accused of reimbursing friends and family for contributions made in their names.

Last year, the campaigns of President Obama, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the gubernatorial campaign of now-Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) all rid themselves of at least some of the donations tied to Thompson and his network.

But others have not been so eager to jettison the big bucks Thompson had raised them over the years. Virtually all District candidates have pooh-poohed the suggestion they return the money, citing the fact that their campaign committees are either broke or closed altogether. (District candidates establish discrete committees for each election cycle, unlike federal candidates, whose committees persist cycle to cycle.)

Few candidates were supported as frequently or as enthusiastically by the Thompson network as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), but she too has resisted the notion the money was tainted — responding to inquiries on WAMU-FM and in The Washington Times last July by arguing in essence that there was no proof the donations were illegal.

Now, with the Thursday guilty plea of Lee A. Calhoun and criminal charging of Stanley A. Straughter, federal authorities have taken action against two members of the Thompson fundraising network. And in a statement issued Friday morning, Norton’s campaign said Calhoun’s and Straughter’s money — a combined $20,000 donated to  in their names and the names of their wives — would be donated to the D.C. Vote nonprofit advocacy group.

What the statement did not mention was whether Norton has any plans to discard contributions made by other members of Thompson’s network or, for that matter, the roughly $10,000 in contributions made by Thompson himself.

Those decisions, it appears, will be prompted only by criminal charges: “If there is further information concerning campaign contributions to the Norton campaign that are found to be in violation of law, the campaign will continue to donate equivalent amounts to charity.”

On WAMU-FM’s Politics Hour Friday, Norton gave some insight into her thinking to co-host Tom Sherwood: “I’m sure your audience understands that nobody could tell, except maybe a U.S. attorney, that somebody else reimbursed the person,” she said.

So there you have it: Norton’s Thompson money will remain deposited until proven guilty in a court of law.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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Mike DeBonis · June 21, 2013

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