D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown’s former campaign treasurer took money from Brown’s campaign account, but he was authorized to do it and was told by Brown to hide it, the treasurer’s attorney said Monday.
J. Wyndal Gordon said Hakim Sutton, Brown’s former treasurer, took payments as “salary” but had been asked by Brown not to list the money on campaign finance reports. Brown wanted it to appear as if he had more money in the bank to scare off potential opponents in the November election, Gordon said.
“The bottom line, the checks were salary and the reason they were not reported is because of the express direction of Michael Brown,” Gordon said. “Mr. Sutton told him, he felt uncomfortable with it, but Mr. Brown put his foot down and demanded it be reported that way.”
Asher Corson, a Brown spokesman, said Gordon’s claim is “totally false.”
“That explanation doesn’t make sense because local campaign workers do not receive that much compensation,” Corson said. “Why would Michael Brown let a campaign worker pay himself that much money?”
Earlier this month, Brown (I-At large) disclosed to the city’s Office of Campaign Finance (OCF), that he needed to adjust his campaign reports to account for $113,950 in “unexplained expenditures” that nearly wiped out his campaign account. The loss left him with about $18,000 in the bank as of Aug. 10.
Gordon acknowledged that Sutton received some of the missing money after OCF released an audit late Friday. The audit revealed that 34 checks totaling $113,950 were “made payable to Mr. Sutton and endorsed by him” from July 2011 through May.
Brown first went public in late June that he feared a “substantial” amount of money had been stolen by someone who worked on his campaign. Brown called police, who along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, continue to investigate.
At the time, Gordon released a sharply worded statement that implied Brown may have benefited from the missing money. But Gordon shifted his story on Monday, saying that Brown and Sutton had an agreement by which his client would draw a salary but not report it.
Gordon was unable to provide documentation for his claim but said Sutton accepted the payments in exchange for agreeing to work exclusively with the Brown campaign this year. Sutton, Gordon said, was going to help Brown raise between $500,000 and $700,000.
“In order for him to work for Brown exclusively, Mr. Sutton required a reasonable salary for his experience, goodwill and his service,” Gordon said, adding that Sutton also served as Brown’s campaign manager. “Mr. Brown was very much involved in how things were being reported . . . nothing was reported without his express authorization.”
Brown holds one of two seats reserved on the council for a non-Democrat. He is being challenged this year by Republican Mary Brooks Beatty, Green Party candidate Ann Wilcox, and independent candidates David Grosso, Leon Swain Jr. and A.J. Cooper.
The OCF audit of Brown’s 2012 account uncovered a total of about $126,000 in unreported expenditures. In addition to the money to Sutton, Brown failed to report 11 other expenditures totaling $12,329 as well as $933 in bank fees, the report states. The audit also noted Brown’s committee failed to report nine contributions totaling $8,446.
The audit does not elaborate on who received the 11 additional expenditures, but it states the “total sum of all expenditures may represent individual violations of D.C. Official Code.”
Auditors have referred the matter to OCF’s general counsel for further investigation. Gordon said Sutton is cooperating with authorities.