Wynn Files Campaign Complaint

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The campaign of U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) filed a complaint yesterday with the Federal Election Commission, alleging that his leading primary opponent has illegally coordinated her campaign efforts with independent organizations that support her -- charges that she immediately rejected as last-minute electioneering by an embattled incumbent.

In unusually strong language, Wynn accuses Prince George's County lawyer Donna F. Edwards of colluding with a small network of people to affect the outcome of the Feb. 12 election, a closely fought match in Maryland's 4th Congressional District that has received national attention.

"There seems to be a vast, dare I say, left-wing conspiracy designed to circumvent campaign finance laws," he said in a conference call with reporters. "I think the main thing is, the public needs to know this is not a person with a halo over her head, as she has tried to portray."

Edwards, who came within three percentage points of defeating the eight-term incumbent in 2006, has the support of progressive organizations that have targeted Wynn because they think he too often votes with Republicans and accepts contributions from corporate interests.

In a statement, Edwards called the complaint "a desperate 11th hour attempt by the Congressman to deflect from the fact that groups representing the core of the Democratic party and the issues it stands for -- worker's rights, affordable housing, protecting women's right to choose, the environment -- have decided that they want to fire him and are supporting me because they know I stand with them and always have."

According to campaign finance laws, candidates for federal office cannot coordinate their efforts with independent groups that favor them without reporting the groups' efforts as in-kind contributions, which are limited. Edwards's effort has been bolstered by organizations that have started independent campaigns to send mail, buy advertisements and call voters.

Wynn's complaint, filed by campaign manager Lori Sherwood, contains 34 points and 126 pages of documentation. Among his allegations are that Edwards is being supported by two groups on whose board of directors she has served.

Edwards is a member of the board of the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group that has been sending mail and making calls in support of her. She was also a founding director of They Work For Us, a nonprofit group organized last year to target Democrats whom the group thinks has strayed from the party's core values. They Work For Us recently bought radio ads attacking Wynn.

"You're seeing the same people, the cross-pollination of boards of directors, the same actors. We think that's collusion," Wynn said. "It doesn't take a lot to connect those dots."

Leaders of both groups said that Edwards took leaves of absences to run for office and has had no role in shaping their involvement in the race.

"This complaint is a baseless and inaccurate smoke screen to take attention away from Rep. Wynn's record of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from polluting energy companies and voting for President Bush's energy bill," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

Steve Rosenthal, president of They Work for Us, said Edwards took a leave from his group Aug. 7 and has had no role since then. He called the complaint "utterly ridiculous."

Until taking a leave of absence to campaign, Edwards served as executive director of the Arca Foundation, a Washington nonprofit organization that provides grants to progressive causes. Wynn also says that board members, employees and political action committees associated with groups that have received grants from Arca have endorsed and funded Edwards's effort.

It is not the first time that Wynn has raised the issue of Arca grants, and Edwards has repeatedly said there is nothing improper about receiving support from like-minded people with whom she has worked.

The Wynn complaint also shows that one independent group that has distributed literature for Edwards shares a New Orleans address with other groups that back her. During her 2006 effort, Edwards's campaign paid a Baltimore company for get-out-the-vote work that has ties to the address.

The complaint is an attempt by Wynn to counter an effort by Edwards to paint him as beholden to corporate interests. It was filed just before a new round of finance reports are to be made public.

In the conference call, Wynn said he decided to file the complaint now, knowing that the FEC probably won't act on it until after the primary, to show voters some sources of Edwards's funding.

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