Campaign finance officials closed their investigation on July 25 without additional penalty after White (D-Ward 8) showed he personally reimbursed the constituent services fund for the controversial donation.
Reached by phone, Darryl Ross, the treasurer of White’s constituent services fund, said the lawmaker would have to explain his reasons for personally paying back the donation. White and his chief of staff did not immediately return requests for comment.
Constituent services accounts allow lawmakers to raise private money to help residents with expenses such as utility bills or funeral costs.
But White’s donation to the Nation of Islam went to the group’s annual Saviours’ Day convention in Chicago in February. Farrakhan made inflammatory remarks in his keynote address, including that “powerful Jews” were his enemy.
In the spring, White stood by the donation, which he said was made at the request of local Nation of Islam members in his Southeast Washington district.
An attorney for White told campaign finance officials that the donation was appropriate because members of the Nation of Islam who asked for the donation participate in a local anti-violence program called Brothers Huddle.
“The expenditure benefited the residents of Ward 8 because of the participation of the Brothers Huddle members in the longstanding youth violence prevention efforts of Council member White and others in Ward 8,” attorney Fred Cooke wrote in a May 3 letter.
Several of White’s fellow lawmakers urged a formal reprimand of White for spending constituent money on an event that provided a platform for bigotry against Jews and the LGBTQ community.
The controversy over the donation came as White was already fighting a national uproar over his claims that the Jewish Rothschild family controls the climate and federal government. Those conspiracy theories, publicized in March, echo a common anti-Semitic trope that Jewish people manipulate world events.
White’s attempts to make amends for those comments began unraveling after The Washington Post reported that he abruptly left a guided tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, a visit that had been arranged by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, and that he had made the $500 donation to the Nation of Islam.
White vowed his supporters would pack the D.C. government building if his colleagues tried to punish him. Calls for his censure fizzled, and lawmakers who said they were waiting for campaign finance officials to determine whether the Nation of Islam donation was improper showed no interest in reviving the issue.
“The inappropriate contribution pre-dates Councilmember White’s March apology, he has personally reimbursed the fund, and the Office of Campaign Finance has closed its investigation with no further action sought,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said in a statement. “Meanwhile, the Council has been undertaking a series of actions to both understand and condemn bigotry — including anti-Semitism and racism.”
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) called for tighter rules governing constituent services funds.
“It’s not enough to simply replace the money and call it even. OCF’s decision doesn’t change what was an inappropriate contribution nor promote accountability,” Allen said in a statement. “The use of constituent service funds needs to be a part of comprehensive campaign finance reform — too often, the funds just reinforce a perception about the influence of money in politics that does more harm than good.”
Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who is one of two Jewish council members and who had called for White to be censured, said she didn’t think there was enough support on the council to take further action.