D.C. Council member replaces campaign treasurer, asks for probe


D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown said he discovered allegedly “unauthorized disbursements” from his reelection account. (BILL O'LEARY/THE WASHINGTON POST)

D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown said Thursday that he has replaced his campaign treasurer and called police after recently discovering allegedly “unauthorized disbursements” from his reelection account, the latest in a series of campaign troubles for District political leaders.

Brown, who is seeking reelection in November, said he uncovered the expenditures while “personally reviewing” his records. He said he immediately contacted D.C. police for an investigation.

Brown (I-At Large) did not disclose how much money is allegedly missing from his account. Without identifying his campaign treasurer, Hakim J. Sutton, by name, Brown said the expenditures had allegedly been made by an “individual who has assisted my campaigns for over five years.”

Brown also said he has taken over as treasurer.

“As the one who discovered the alleged theft, I have decided to personally take over as the treasurer of my reelection campaign,” Brown said. “To demonstrate my commitment to operate the campaign books transparently and ethically, I will bring in an independent auditor to ensure that all campaign finance activities meet the strictest fiduciary standards.”

Sutton is a veteran and well-respected Democratic fundraiser and organizer who has worked for council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and former council member Kathleen Patterson, as well as Brown’s 2008 campaign.

Reached by phone, Sutton declined to comment, saying he had only just learned of the allegation Thursday afternoon. Gwendolyn Crump, a police spokeswoman, confirmed that police are looking into the matter.

“The allegation was brought to our attention and we are a conducting an investigation,” said Crump, who declined to comment further. Officials with the Office of Campaign Finance said they have also been made aware of the situation.

Brown’s money problem comes as Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and several council members have struggled with questions about their campaign finances in recent years.

Former council chairman Kwame R. Brown pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor campaign violation this month after a federal investigation into his 2008 campaign.

Two former Gray campaign aides also pleaded guilty this spring to involvement in payments to mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown in 2010.

Gray’s campaign funds — including cash and money order donations and allegations of a “shadow campaign” — remain under federal investigation.

In March, D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) was forced to publicly admit that he accepted more than $20,000 in “suspicious” donations from Jeffrey E. Thompson, a city contractor who has been a prolific donor to political campaigns in the city.

After Thompson’s home and office were raided by federal investigators, Orange said he discovered he had accepted $26,000 in money orders and cashier’s checks from Thompson and his associates during a three-day period leading up to his 2011 election. Many of the donations had sequential order numbers and similar handwriting.

Orange has denied any wrongdoing. The federal investigation into Thompson continues.

According to the most recent report filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, Brown’s campaign has taken in nearly $148,000 and has spent about $32,000. The campaign reported having $115,515 on hand as of the June 10 reporting period. Records show Brown spent $12,061 during the last reporting, including four $2,400 payments to a man identified by campaign officials as the landlord for Brown’s office.

Sutton signed the report.

Brown, son of the late commerce secretary Ronald H. Brown, is seeking reelection to one of two at-large council seats on the ballot in the Nov. 6 election.

Two weeks ago, Brown scored a major political victory when his colleagues elected him president pro temp of the council in the body’s leadership shuffle after Kwame Brown’s resignation.

But Michael Brown is still expected to face a stiff challenge as he continues to be battered by questions about his personal finances.

In January 2011, The Washington Post reported that he and his wife had failed to make timely property tax payments on their $1.4 million Chevy Chase home. In April 2011, the Internal Revenue Service filed a $50,000 lien against Brown for failure to pay income taxes dating to 2004.

According to a copy of the lien, Brown failed to pay $7,128 in 2004, $28,625 in 2005, $5,176 in 2007 and $11,951 in 2008. A fresh IRS lien was filed in April for $20,000 in income-tax obligations through 2010.

D.C. Superior Court records also indicate that Brown missed rent payments on two apartments that have been under his name at the Rittenhouse Apartments on 16th Street NW over the past two years. The complaints were dropped after Brown satisfied his account.

One of Brown’s campaign opponents, David Grosso, tweeted Thursday that Brown “can’t handle money in any aspect of his life — personal, campaign and of course legislative.”

But aides to Brown said that his discovery of the campaign discrepancies and decision to make the matter public demonstrate his commitment to transparency and accountability.

“We believe the fact that the alleged theft was discovered by the candidate reflects well on Michael Brown’s financial oversight,” said L. Asher Corson, Brown’s campaign spokesman.

Nikita Stewart and Clarence Williams 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.
Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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