There’s a new political action committee on the D.C. political scene. But its founder — former mayor Vincent C. Gray’s old campaign manager — says it’s nothing like PACs you’ve seen before.
Chuck Thies, Gray’s former campaign manager and current media liaison, says he formed the Higher Ground PAC with the sole purpose of conducting an opinion poll, after which he will “shut it down.”
The new PAC arrives several months after a political action committee run by allies of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) was shut down amid widespread criticism. The now-defunct FreshPAC, run by Bowser’s former campaign manager, used a non-election year loophole to solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in unlimited donations, some from powerful local developers and recent political appointees. Some of the same critics echoed similar objections to the Higher Ground PAC on Wednesday.
“D.C.’s residents are just fed up with the big money developers calling all the shots,” said Anya Schoolman, director of the Community Power Network and a vocal critic of FreshPAC. She said there is reason to be skeptical of the new Gray-affiliated PAC, too.
“If the only thing they wanted to do with their money was an opinion poll, why would they need a PAC?” she asked. “Anyone can raise the money. You can make donations on a GoFundMe page . . . The only reason to do a PAC is so you can do political expenditures.”
Thies said his PAC does not seek to influence voters or “advocate for any particular candidate.” He said the PAC limited its campaign donations to $500 per person and that it spent far less money on polling than FreshPAC did.
“One of the goals of Higher Ground PAC is to be as transparent as possible,” Thies said, adding that he would publicize the list of donors.
Gray, through Thies, has repeatedly declined requests for interviews with The Washington Post.
The U.S. attorney’s office last month ended a nearly five-year investigation of the illegal financing of Gray’s 2010 campaign without filing charges against the former mayor. During the investigation, then-U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. publicly accused Gray of having knowledge of an illegal campaign fund. Gray maintained his innocence and has said Machen’s accusation, leveled a few weeks before the 2014 Democratic primary, cost him the election.
Gray has told people close to him that he is considering running for a D.C. Council seat in June.
Thies said that although the PAC has “no direct linkage” with Gray, the poll aims to assess voters’ feelings on Gray as a potential candidate in races for both the Ward 7 seat and an at-large seat on the council. For instance, the political action committee’s poll also asked respondents: “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: As Mayor, Vince Gray was treated fairly by the media” and “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: As Mayor, Vince Gray was treated fairly by Federal investigators.”
Peter Brooks, a former Gray campaign deputy who has appeared in Gray’s campaign ads, chairs the PAC and also voices the automated poll questions.