Democrat Walter E. Fauntroy filed suit yesterday accusing the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance of failing to enforce the law by permitting rival mayoral candidate John Ray to receive multiple contributions from developers through real estate partnerships.
By contributing through real estate partnerships that they own or control, developers are able to get around the $2,000 limit on individual contributions to mayoral campaigns.
Although illegal on a national level, such multiple contributions have been considered legal by the District's campaign finance office, and many politicians, including D.C. Council member Ray (D-At Large), have benefited from what is viewed by some as a major loophole.
For instance, a group of partnerships controlled by developers Richard and Ronald Cohen and their brother-in-law, Joel Meisel, has contributed more than $40,000 to Ray's campaign this year.
Fauntroy, the D.C. delegate who has sharply criticized Ray over his campaign contributions from developers, contended in a suit filed in D.C. Superior Court that such multiple contributions are illegal, and asked the court to order the Ray campaign to return contributions from developers in excess of $2,000.
"There is no remedy at law . . . to reverse an election won with illegal campaign contributions," Fauntroy's attorneys argued in court papers. "The court and the voting public faces such a reality, given the amount of funds contributed to the Ray campaign" in violation of the law.
Fauntroy's attorneys estimated that more than $100,000 has been contributed by real estate partnerships to Ray, who leads in raising campaign funds, with $900,000. "The closing weeks of the mayoral campaign are at hand," they wrote. "Funds illegally contributed to the Ray campaign will be used for massive, expensive radio and television activity by that candidate."
Marianne Coleman Niles, director of the campaign finance office, declined to comment on the suit, but she said the action appears to be premature because the Fauntroy campaign has not exhausted its administrative remedies before the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
In a letter to Fauntroy's campaign, Niles said that to change the office's interpretation of the campaign finance laws so late in the campaign "would have a chaotic effect on this campaign which is already in full swing and nearing its end."
However, she added that the office has identified contributions by partnerships "as an issue requiring clarification" after the election. D.C. Council member William Lightfoot (I-At Large) recently introduced a bill to bring the city law in conformity with federal law.
The Fauntroy lawsuit also questioned whether an independent $25,000 advertising campaign on Ray's behalf by the political action committee for the Washington D.C. Realtors Association was truly independent, as required by law and asserted by Realtors officials.
Fauntroy asked the court to force Ray's campaign to reveal the names of its finance committee. He said such a disclosure is necessary to determine whether top officials of the Ray campaign are also officials in the Realtors association.