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D.C. Audit Questions Democrats' Fundraising, Convention Activities

Party leader Anita Bonds disputed preliminary findings on fundraising for the last year's national convention .
Party leader Anita Bonds disputed preliminary findings on fundraising for the last year's national convention . (Bill O'leary - Twp)
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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has found suspected campaign finance violations related to the D.C. Democratic State Committee's fundraising and its activities at last year's Democratic National Convention in Denver, according to a preliminary audit.

In the audit report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, the board's Office of Campaign Finance states that the committee appears to have failed to accurately report $158,245 in donations between January 2007 and January 2009. The committee also failed to report 19 expenditures totaling $85,000, the report says.

"The audit staff was made aware of these deposits/receipts/contributions through the review of the copies of the committee bank statements," the report states.

The report also raises the question whether a local political party is allowed to raise money for party-building activities at a national convention without having to abide by D.C. campaign finance laws. In the report, which local party officials are contesting, election officials say the committee appears to have failed to abide by the city's $5,000 limit on campaign donations to individual political committee.

Several development companies and campaign accounts of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) wrote $10,000 checks last year to help finance the party's activities at the convention, the report says. In all, the committee might have to return $37,000 in "excess" donations, according to the report.

Anita Bonds, chairwoman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, noted that the findings were preliminary. She said the committee would be providing additional information to the Office of Campaign Finance to justify the committee's recordkeeping.

Furthermore, Bonds said, the committee does not think that the city election board has jurisdiction over the party's convention account. The committee that raised money for the party's convention activities "was a separate entity from the D.C. Democratic committee" and was not subject to city campaign finance laws, Bonds said. She said the money in question was spent on receptions and other convention activities and not on political campaigns in the District.

"It was a separate committee that was organized outside their jurisdiction," Bonds said. "This was money purely for the convention."

Paul Craney, executive director of the D.C. Republican Committee, disputed Bonds's assertion that D.C. political parties can have unregulated accounts.

"The law is very clear," Craney said. "We have to be registered and report to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance and the [Federal Election Commission]. Anything else is just a slush fund."

The audit report appears to suggest that several D.C. Council members played an active role in soliciting donations for the committee's convention fund. In documents contained in the appendix, several donations are directly tied to council members.

Comcast Financial Agency Corp.'s $10,000 contribution, for example, is designated as "for" D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D); the Cable Television PAC's $5,000 donation is designated as for council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5); and Verizon's $5,000 is listed as for Evans. A $10,000 donation from the law firm Squire Sanders was designated as for council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4).


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