Vincent Gray, presumptive next D.C. mayor, to raise private money for transition

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 19, 2010; 11:40 PM

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, the District's presumptive next mayor, will not accept a lump sum from taxpayers to fund his transition but instead will raise unregulated, private money from donors.

Under emergency legislation that cleared the council Tuesday, immediately after the Nov. 2 general election, outgoing Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) will be required to supply Gray's transition staff with work space, supplies, office furniture and city-owned vehicles.

But unlike in 2006, when the council allocated $250,000 to fund the transition from former mayor Anthony Williams (D) to Fenty, the city is not giving Gray a direct payment for staffing and other costs.

Gray (D) said he decided not to accept city money because the District is facing a $175 million shortfall in the current year's budget.

"This is to make sure taxpayers don't have to pay to get it done," Gray said.

Yet Gray's decision to raise the money from private sources is raising questions about what limits, if any, will be placed on the type and amount of donations he can receive. Under District law, individuals, corporations and labor unions cannot contribute more than $2,000 to a political candidate. But District campaign finance laws do not extend to the transition period, said Wesley Williams, a spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance.

In a meeting with reporters after the council vote, Gray was unable to say how much he plans to raise for his transition and what types and amounts of donations he plans to solicit.

"We will comply with the rules, no matter what they may be," Gray said.

When a reporter told Gray that there were no "rules," Gray responded, "You propose the rules that you think are problematic, and we will abide."

Reuben C. Charles II, director of operations for Gray's campaign, said the chairman will establish a nonprofit 501(c)(4) organ to collect donations to fund the transition. Charles added that the campaign plans to adhere to "self-imposed" contribution limits but has not decided what they will be. Charles also promised that Gray will make his donors' names public.

"We are going to keep it clean," Charles said. "He is adamant about not taking money from the city, and I hope everyone respects that."

Gray also plans to establish a separate account to raise money for his inauguration, which has become customary for District mayors in recent years.

Gray noted that it is traditional for presidents, governors and mayors to raise private money to pay their transition costs. President Obama, for example, raised more than $4 million for his transition to supplement the $5 million in federal money Congress appropriated. Obama, however, refused to accept money from federal lobbyists, corporations or political action committees - a pledge Gray was not willing to make Monday.

In 2006, Fenty spent about $150,000 of the $250,000 that the city budgeted for his transition. But Fenty raised an additional $611,000 in private donations - capped at $25,000 per donor - for his inauguration.

Dorothy Brizill, executive director of DC Watch, a Web site that advocates for good government, said Gray should quickly spell out "how much he is going to raise and what rules and guidelines will be in place."

D.C. Council members, however, appear divided over whether they should act to bring greater clarity to which, if any, finance rules should apply to private money raised for a transition.

Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said she has "confidence" that Gray will act "with integrity" when raising money to pay transition costs.

But Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said he would be open to permanent regulations for how transitions should be funded.

"The horse is not too far out of the barn on this yet," Wells said. "I do believe there has to be a transparent accounting of funds raised and spent."

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