“This $650,000 is enough money to buy a local election, and it appears it bought the mayor’s office for Vincent Gray,” he said.
Still, Gray won the September 2010 primary by nearly 10 percentage points — 13,000 votes. His vote total was boosted in part by a better-than-expected turnout east of the Anacostia River, where Gray campaign workers have said the “shadow campaign” was focused.
The Gray campaign ended up raising $2.8 million, but it had $331,825 on hand a week before the Democratic primary. The better-financed Fenty campaign, at the time, had more than double that amount.
According to prosecutors, much of the shadow campaign’s money and manpower was focused on the two weeks before the primary.
Harris said Thompson opted to hide his campaign largesse in large part to avoid angering Fenty, whose administration his businesses relied on for contracts. The Medicaid deal held by his D.C. Chartered Health Plan is the city’s largest contract: It is worth more than $300 million yearly.
“He did not want the sitting mayor to find out he was supporting his opponent,” Harris said. “If somehow the sitting mayor won, he would be in some serious contractual problems.”
Harris, a veteran of city politics and a close Thompson associate for more than a decade, appeared before Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to plead guilty to three charges, including conspiring to evade federal and local campaign finance laws and obstruct justice.
The conspiracy charges pertained to “straw donor” arrangements said to have stretched back to 2001. Harris admitted working with Thompson to have her relatives, friends and employees give political donations that would later be reimbursed by Thompson, thereby evading federal and local limits on campaign contributions.
“He would bundle the checks, or put them together and give them to the candidate,” Harris said in court, describing Thompson’s typical practice.
Machen said the straw-donation schemes sent “tens of thousands of dollars” to federal and local campaigns, but the total amount of donations funneled from Thompson to candidates is likely to stretch into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
To Gray’s 2010 campaign alone, Thompson is said to have sent $38,000 through Harris.
Harris said she did not think there was a law against reimbursing political donors. “There’s no one I got money from who would have had $2,000 to give to a candidate,” she said. “Later, I found out it was illegal, and I’m sorry for that.”
Under federal sentencing guidelines agreed to by Harris and prosecutors, she faces a sentence of 30 to 37 months in prison and a fine of up to $60,000, although Kollar-Kotelly is free to depart from those suggestions. A sentencing date has not been set, but a status hearing was scheduled for October.