Mayor Gray’s campaign mess
By Colbert I. King,
Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s political situation is fairly straightforward.
On Jan. 2, 2011, Gray solemnly swore to faithfully discharge the duties of the office of mayor of the District of Columbia.
Under the Home Rule Act, the mayor is responsible for the proper execution of all laws relating to the District and for the proper administration of the affairs of the District coming under his jurisdiction or control.
The Post reported Wednesday that Gray learned in January from longtime friend and campaign aide Jeanne Clark Harris that associates spent money on behalf of his 2010 election that was not properly reported, which is a violation of campaign finance laws.
At issue: What was the mayor told in January? Did he learn about an illegal, secret, $650,000 campaign waged on his behalf? Or was he told merely about the existence of outstanding invoices that had not been included in the campaign’s spending report to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance? Was he told about the amount, or that the expenditures were illegal? The Post story says Gray later told Harris to submit records of expenditures to his campaign staff.
If the mayor learned about violations of campaign finance law on the scale disclosed this week by prosecutors, he should have immediately brought them to the attention of campaign finance and law enforcement authorities. His oath of office requires no less.
Asked whether the mayor learned in January about a secret fund to help his election in 2010, and whether he reported the actions to authorities, Gray’s press secretary Pedro Riberio referred me to Robert S. Bennett, the mayor’s attorney. Bennett declined to be interviewed.
If Gray was told about what Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, has described as a “massive infusion of cash that was illegally concealed from the voters,” and he did not notify authorities, he should do the honorable thing and resign.
Still unknown, at least to this observer, is what Gray learned from Harris during their January meeting in his office. A critical piece of information is missing.
Without question, much that is dishonorable and disgraceful has already been done on Gray’s behalf, if not in his name.
To advance Gray’s candidacy in 2010, Thomas W. Gore, Gray’s friend for two decades, and Howard L. Brooks, another friend, schemed to keep minor candidate Sulaimon Brown in the mayoral race so Brown would keep pounding on then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who was seeking reelection. Gore secretly financed Brown’s campaign and then destroyed ledgers that documented the payoffs. Caught by the feds, Gore pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor infractions of D.C. election law and a federal charge of obstruction of justice.
Brooks confessed to making the secret payments. He also pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents who were investigating the campaign activities.
And now comes Harris, another longtime Gray friend who revealed in federal court the role she played in one of the slimiest political operations in District politics over the four decades of home rule.
Harris pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and conspiring to break federal and District campaign finance laws.
Before this sordid story of political corruption ends, more people associated with the Gray campaign are likely to have an exchange with the U.S. attorney and the FBI before trekking down to U.S. District Court to appear before the honorable Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.
Clearly, others have some explaining to do. I’m thinking of those Harris family members, employees and friends cited in the statement of offense the U.S. attorney filed. Harris admitted to obtaining contributions to Gray’s campaign of $2,000 per person — the maximum lawful amount at the time — from 16 relatives, employees and friends.
According to the filing, Harris said that “Co-conspirator #1” — identified elsewhere as businessman Jeffrey Thompson — reimbursed her for $44,000 in campaign contributions, including her own. She said she caused payments of $2,000 to be made to the 16 family members, employees and friends to reimburse them for their supposed contributions.
Would-be players be advised: Acting the role of straw man or conduit through which disguised contributions can be made is a no-no under federal and D.C. campaign finance laws.
Those not-so-sweet 16 folks, and all other straw men out there, should have a date with the authorities, too.
“This is not the campaign we intended to run,” Gray said this week.
You don’t say.
But more needs to be said about the January meeting.
Read more on this debate from Opinions: The Post’s View: Mayor Gray’s tainted administration Mo Elleithee and Steve McMahon: Betrayed by the Gray shadow campaign Colbert I. King: Does Gray recognize D.C.’s culture of corruption?