Feds probe ‘shadow campaign’ for Gray

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Andrew Kennedy’s recollection of being asked to create a piece of campaign literature. Kennedy, owner of Kennedy Communications, says that he misspoke in talking to a reporter and that the request was made before the Democratic primary, not after. This version has been corrected.

March 21, 2012

The federal investigation into Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 election now includes a focus on an alleged get-out-the-vote effort that was not publicly reported and that several campaign workers have called a “shadow campaign,” according to people with knowledge of the probe.

The former campaign staffers said the alleged activity ran outside the apparatus of the official election efforts, meaning that the spending was not reported, as would generally be required by campaign finance laws.

Several campaign aides and volunteers told The Washington Post that veteran field organizer Vernon E. Hawkins coordinated the alleged effort, sometimes working out of Gray’s downtown campaign headquarters. At the time, Gray (D) was considered an underdog, and his fundraising badly lagged behind that of the incumbent mayor, Adrian M. Fenty (D). The alleged shadow campaign would have added money and manpower.

The aides and volunteers spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid about the matter. Some said they had talked with investigators looking into the Gray campaign.

Top campaign consultants said they believed that Hawkins — a former Human Services director who was forced out in 1996 after mismanagement claims — was a volunteer who advised them on campaign literature that would resonate with voters east of the Anacostia River. The campaign workers said they don’t know the origin of Hawkins’s effort, which included getting voters to the polls and distributing literature, but that it was well-organized.

Hawkins did not return calls seeking comment, and Gray said it was his understanding that Hawkins was a campaign volunteer. Gray declined to answer specific questions about the campaign allegations, citing the ongoing investigation.

None of the people identified by The Post as being involved in Hawkins’s alleged operation is listed on Gray campaign-finance records as receiving significant compensation. Under city law, political committees must publicly report their activities even if they are not coordinating with a campaign. The Post could not find any records filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance that reflect the activity the aides described.

One Philadelphia-based consultant, Tracy Hardy, said he “coordinated with Hawkins” and “never worked for the Vincent Gray campaign.”

Several raids

Hardy said he was paid by Details International. That is a D.C. firm owned by public relations consultant Jeanne Clarke Harris, whose home and office were raided this month by federal authorities on the same day authorities searched the home and offices of businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson.

Harris and Thompson — whose managed-care organization Chartered Health Plan is the District’s largest contractor, with as much as $322 million annually in city business — are longtime associates. The raids are part of a widening probe into potential campaign violations, and it includes D.C. council members whose campaigns were served with subpoenas last week for records tied to Thompson and Harris.

Also, the aides said, political consultant Junelle Cavero, who headed the campaign’s get-out-the-vote efforts on primary day, coordinated with Hawkins, Hardy and Tracey Watkins, a political consultant based in Richmond.

Watkins initially said she would speak with The Post but did not return calls. Cavero’s attorney, Tom Connelly, declined to answer any questions, including whether she has testified before the grand jury. “I don’t feel comfortable talking at this stage in the case,” he said.

In recent years, Thompson, Harris, their firms, relatives, employees and others with ties to them have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Gray, Fenty, former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), and other mayoral and council candidates.

Most recently, council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), who is running for reelection in the April 3 primary, released records of campaign donations that he says were bundled by Thompson. Orange said he now is suspicious of the contributions, particularly those in the form of money orders that were sequentially numbered made to his 2011 special election.

The Post reported a year ago that mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown has alleged that the Gray campaign paid him to disparage Fenty on the campaign trail and promised him a city job. He said he received cash and money orders, some of which he deposited in his campaign fund. The Post later reported that the Gray campaign had accepted cash contributions above the legal limit and received an unusually high number of donations via money order. Gray has denied any wrongdoing.

The Gray campaign paid Details International $20,000 on Aug. 26, 2010, just a few weeks before the Sept. 14 primary, according to campaign-finance records. The Gray administration said the campaign hired Harris’s firm as a consultant to buy ads in the black press. The firm, however, missed a purchase deadline and returned the check to the Gray campaign, according to the administration. The Post obtained a copy of the voided check.

But Mo Elleithee, a political consultant who was in charge of communications and messaging for the Gray campaign, said that he was unaware of the Details payment until recently and that he did not understand why the firm was paid because it was his responsibility to oversee all advertising. Potomac Waves, a company that shares Georgetown offices with Elleithee’s Hilltop Public Solutions, was hired to secure black radio and print advertising, he said.

Campaign records show payments from the Gray campaign to Potomac Waves for “advertising” and the voided $20,000 check to Details as a “consultant.”

“It’s increasingly clear that there was a shadow campaign that the legitimate campaign didn’t know anything about,” Elleithee said.

Gray’s campaign aides said they knew that some registered political-action committees worked on behalf of Gray, including one bankrolled by businessman R. Donahue Peebles. But it’s unclear where money came from to pay for canvassers and supervisors for the alleged “shadow campaign.”

Attorney Frederick D. Cooke Jr. is representing Harris, Hardy and Thomas W. Gore, Gray’s longtime friend who assisted campaign treasurer Betty J. Brown.

Cooke declined to comment on behalf of his clients. Brown did not return a call seeking comment.

Campaign-finance records show that Monroe Press, a Philadelphia-based firm owned by Hardy, received $1,860 from the Gray campaign the day after the primary. Hardy said he was not paid by the Gray campaign for his political services but that his firm may have received some money for printing.

He declined to say how much he or Monroe Press earned from Details, but he said he brought in a half-dozen consultants in the summer of 2010 to help with Gray’s election. He said they worked out of a room of the Gray headquarters on Sixth Street NW. Hardy also said he worked with Watkins, who was later hired by Orange on his 2011 campaign.

Hardy said he did his job. “They call me when they want to win. I’m just a political consultant. I come in, and I leave,” he said.

But Hawkins, a fixture in local politics who most recently was helping with Orange’s reelection campaign, remained. Before the primary, Andrew Kennedy, owner of Kennedy Communications, said Hawkins asked him to create a quick piece of literature he could distribute.

Paid by cashier’s check

Kennedy said that when he asked about payment, Hawkins said he would take care of it. Kennedy said he does not know who delivered the payment to his office, but it came after the primary in the form of a cashier’s check from the Gray campaign — the first time he said he’d been paid any way other than a regular check or wire transfer.

Kennedy said he told the Gray campaign that he got the check, and Gore and Reuben O. Charles II, the campaign’s chief fundraiser and later director of the Gray transition team, said they suggested that it was an approved expense. Charles could not be reached.

“I believed every single payment we received was from the campaign,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said Wednesday that he reviewed his documents and found a record for a cashier’s check for $5,548.

Gray’s campaign-finance records do not show any expenditure for that amount.

Staff writer Mike DeBonis and researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

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