The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics voted yesterday to take legal action against mayoral candidate Morris Harper after the city's Office of Campaign Finance reported that Harper's latest campaign financial report was "inaccurate, false and misleading."
The board's action could result in stiff civil or criminal penalties for the Democratic mayoral candidate.
Harper, 34, attended yesterday's meeting at the District Building and briefly addressed the elections board. He said that any discrepancies in his financial statement were due to "administrative error and inefficiency" and were not intentional.
Lindell Tinsley, acting director of the campaign finance office, said a two-week investigation ordered by the board turned up evidence that Harper's campaign committee tried to cover up individual contributions that exceeded the $2,000 legal limit by listing parts of the contributions under other contributors.
In addition, some persons who were listed as contributors denied that they had given or pledged money to Harper's campaign, according to Tinsley.
"On at least one occasion, Mr. Harper recalled having a conversation with an alleged contributor who, according to Harper, agreed to donate a contribution," Tinsley told the board. "It was later discovered that this person did not speak English and had neither contributed nor heard of Harper's campaign."
Harper said yesterday that Tinsley had broken a "contractual agreement" by going ahead with the investigation after Harper had promised at a June 14 meeting in Tinsley's office to straighten out his campaign finances and to file an amended report.
Late yesterday Harper's office issued a statement expressing surprise at the board's decision, adding that campaign officials "have answered all their questions and we feel now that we have nothing more to add.
"We fail to understand what more information can be developed or what value can come from a public hearing on this matter," the statement continued. "In a political year perhaps this kind of activity can be expected. We will of course cooperate with the office in the future just as we have in the past."
After the meeting, Tinsley denied to reporters that he had made any agreement with Harper. Tinsley also said Harper's campaign committee refused to turn over bank statements to him that might show just how much money it has taken in.
Tinsley said he is not aware of another case similar to this one in which a candidate apparently falsified a report to exaggerate the money he had raised.
Harper filed a report June 10 that showed $131,500 in contributions. The Washington Post reported that at least nine of the 144 contributors listed in that financial statement said they neither pledged nor gave the amounts attributed to them. Harper's campaign treasurer said then that about half the contributions claimed by Harper consisted of pledges.
Conviction for knowingly filing a false or misleading campaign financial statement with the city carries a maximum civil penalty of $50 per violation and criminal penalties of up to five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
The elections board will hold an administrative hearing on Harper's case, conducted by one or more of the board members, with Tinsley acting as prosecutor and Harper entitled to legal representation. No date for the hearing has been set.
The board may impose civil penalties if it finds Harper has violated the law. The board may also refer the case to the U.S. attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution.
Harper can appeal the elections board's decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals.