D.C. Council candidate had contract to solicit his 2008 donors for ‘consulting fee’


Patrick Mara speaks at Promised Land Baptist Church during a debate on March 22. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
April 15, 2013

A D.C. Council candidate agreed to help a conservative think tank raise money from his campaign donors in exchange for a “consulting fee” or a portion of the money raised, according to a copy of the contract between the two parties.

Patrick Mara, a Republican making his third bid for an at-large council seat, entered the agreement in 2009 with DC Progress, which advocated for business-friendly policies in the District.

According to a copy of the agreement, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Mara agreed to send fundraising letters on his letterhead to “all of his donors from his 2008 campaign.” Mara, who raised $250,000 from about 550 donors in the 2008 council race, also agreed to accompany DC Progress’s president, Christian Robey, on follow-up visits with his donors.

Mara, who also represents Ward 1 on the State Board of Education, was to be paid a consulting fee of $1,500 to $2,500 a month or 10 percent of the money he raised if that amount was greater, the agreement states.

When shown a copy of the contract on Monday, Mara confirmed that it was authentic and that he had helped Robey with fundraising. But Mara said his actual work was “a lot different” than what was outlined in the contract, which was signed by both men.

“We had lunch with a few people basically,” said Mara, a leading contender in the April 23 special election. “I helped him out because I believe in the organization, but it wasn’t this long-term thing.”

But attorneys who are familiar with election law say the agreement may violate city laws and regulations designed to keep candidates from using campaign resources for their own financial benefit.

The code states that “information copied from the reports and statements should not be sold or utilized by any person for the purpose of soliciting contributions or for any commercial purpose.”

Those regulations are designed to protect campaign donors from being solicited by other groups, while also preventing the “commercialization” of campaign finance data, they said.

Wesley Williams, a spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance, declined to comment on Mara’s contract, saying that “if someone made a complaint, we would investigate that.”

Ken McGhie, general counsel for the D.C. Board of Elections, said he has “never heard anything close” to the agreement between Mara and DC Progress.

“Commercialization of your voters lists just seems to require some additional scrutiny,” he said.

One issue, according to McGhie and others, is that a candidate does not own the campaign finance report. That information belongs to the campaign.

Joseph Sandler, who specializes in election law, said campaigns frequently sell or share lists between one another. But Sandler said current or former candidates “cannot benefit personally from a resource that belongs to the campaign.”

“That is the issue here,” Sandler said.

Robey is a self-described conservative activist who works as the political director at Media Research Center, which aims to uncover perceived liberal bias in the media. When he formed DC Progress in 2009, the Alexandria-based group was billed as a “free-market think tank.” Last year, DC Progress was renamed R Street Institute.

Reached by phone Monday, Robey recalled working with Mara but said he did “not remember any of the details.”

“I have no recollection of it at all, that was four years ago,” said Robey, who is no longer affiliated with the group.

Eli Lehrer, president of R Street Institute and the former treasurer of DC Progress, remembered meeting with Mara in 2009 but did not recall the arrangement producing significant donations.

“There was a fundraising agreement, but it was a terrible time for any nonprofit to be raising money,” Lehrer said. “The sort of stuff [Mara] did was try to open doors primarily with corporate and foundation donors. . . . It just couldn’t get off the ground.”

Mara said he confined his work for the group to donors he already knew. “It was face-to-face meetings,” he said.

The agreement offers another clue into Mara’s business since he stopped lobbying on Capitol Hill in 2008. Mara signed the agreement with Robey as a representative of the Dolan Group, a consulting group that Mara formed after he stopped lobbying. In an interview with The Post earlier this month, Mara would name only one of his clients, a now-defunct wind turbine company. A business started by Mara that sells political and sports memorabilia on eBay is also affiliated with the Dolan Group, records show.

Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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