January 31, 2014

OUR RECENT editorial about the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance’s (OCF) delay in releasing the findings of its audit into Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign prompted two D.C. Council members to ask their own questions. The answer they got raises only more questions, and that should prompt further scrutiny of just how committed this office is to investigating wrongdoing in local elections.

Deborah K. Nichols, chairman of the D.C. Board of Elections, which oversees the campaign finance office, cited the U.S. Attorney’s Office in a Jan. 28 letter to council members Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), explaining the circumstances surrounding the yet-to-be released audit of Mr. Gray’s campaign.

The OCF, Ms. Nichols wrote, has not finalized the audit and, to do so, needs documentation that is in the custody of federal prosecutors. “Without access to this documentation, OCF cannot examine the physical evidence that is necessary to conclude its investigative process,” she wrote in the letter, a copy of which was sent to Mr. Gray (D). An earlier explanation from OCF spokesman Wesley Williams said, “At the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, additional information may be necessary.”

In short, local officials would have the public believe the holdup in issuing a report written more than a year ago lies with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Not so, according to that office.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office does not have the authority to order and never asked the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance to withhold the release of its audit of the 2010 mayoral campaign,” spokesman William Miller said in response to our inquiries. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Office of Campaign Finance are separate entities with their own responsibilities and investigative tools, including subpoena power. Federal statutes, regulations, and court rules limit the ability of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to share documents obtained through a federal criminal investigation with third parties, but the Office of Campaign Finance has the authority to independently develop evidence and investigate matters within its jurisdiction. The Office of Campaign Finance has been and remains free to release its audit of the 2010 mayoral campaign whenever it wishes.”

Informed of this statement, a spokeswoman for the Board of Elections said that the OCF is currently unable to provide a complete portrayal of Mr. Gray’s campaign because there are witnesses and documents inaccessible because of the criminal investigation. But because of its “commitment to transparency,” spokeswoman Tamara Robinson said, the board is reviewing preliminary findings to determine whether any portions can be made available to the public. We urge officials to do so without further delay.

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