Campaign Finance Office clears D.C. Council Chairman Gray of wrongdoing

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2010

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray did not receive special treatment from a developer who did work on his house last year, and Gray did not violate campaign finance laws by using official stationery to solicit a donation for the city's Democratic Party, the Office of Campaign Finance ruled Wednesday.

The ruling, which came after a four-month investigation, could help Gray pivot away from questions about ethics as he begins his campaign against Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in the September Democratic primary.

"I have said all along that I committed no wrongdoing," Gray said in a statement. "I hope that any unfounded questions . . . can now be put to rest."

In November, news surfaced that a company owned by developer Chris Smith had performed architectural and repair services on Gray's home last summer, including fixing a lock on a gate, erecting a fence, painting, and power washing his driveway.

Gray paid $10,000 for the work in December, about the same time a Washington Times reporter began inquiring whether the chairman received special treatment from Smith, who has partnered with the city on projects.

But the Office of Campaign Finance ruled that Gray, who has known Smith for years, paid market value for the work. The office also concluded that Smith did not have any controversial business before the council at the time.

"There is no evidence to suggest that [Gray's] official actions or judgment or vote would be influenced by [Smith] in exchange for the work performed at his home," the ruling states, adding Gray and Smith "engaged in a transaction made in the ordinary course of business.''

The Office of Campaign Finance, which enforces the city's conflict-of-interest laws, also investigated whether Gray broke the law when he used his official stationary to solicit a $20,000 contribution from Comcast.

Gray made the request on behalf of the D.C. Democratic Committee in the weeks before the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He solicited $20,000, although D.C. law imposes a $5,000 limit on contributions by a single donor to a political committee during an election cycle.

Gray's written request, which apparently resulted in a $10,000 contribution, surfaced as part of an ongoing ethics probe into how the D.C. Democratic State Committee raised money for the convention and whether those donations were accurately reported to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.

In a separate ruling Wednesday, the campaign-finance office found numerous violations in the way that the local Democratic Party raised money for the convention.

Local party leaders had argued they did not have to abide by reporting and fundraising guidelines because they were not using the money locally. But the Office of Campaign Finance concluded that the fundraising was political.

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