A city council member’s questionable honesty
By Colbert I. King,
On Sept. 20, 1994, Dynamic Energy Resources, Inc., an Oklahoma natural gas company owned by Nora T. Lum and her husband, Gene K.H. Lum, gave a $5,000 check to an officer of the company.
That same day, the officer made a $1,000 contribution in his own name to the reelection campaign of Sen. Edward Kennedy, and he asked three company colleagues to contribute a total of $4,000 to the Kennedy campaign, for which he immediately reimbursed them.
It was a dishonest act. It was also illegal. The Federal Election Campaign Act limits how much money a person can contribute to a federal candidate in an election.
Evading that limit by giving money through another person is against the law. The officer in question funneled $4,000 to a federal candidate through “straw” donors after he had already contributed the maximum permitted under the law.
The violator was Michael A. Brown, currently an at-large member of the D.C. Council.
Brown pleaded guilty on Aug. 28, 1997, to a federal offense that carries a maximum penalty of one year of imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000. In a negotiated plea agreement, Brown was sentenced on Nov. 21 of that year to three years of supervised probation, 150 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine — the maximum authorized under the sentencing guidelines. The court also ordered him to pay $7,800 for the costs of his probation.
The Lums pleaded guilty to the scheme in which they funneled approximately $50,000 in unlawful campaign contributions through straw donors. On Sept. 9, 1997, they were each sentenced to 10 months’ detention and two years of supervised release and were fined $30,000. Their daughter, Trisha Lum, a political appointee in the Commerce Department when it was headed by the late Ronald E. Brown, also pleaded guilty on June 5, 1997, to allowing her name to be used to make a $10,000 contribution to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee with funds from Nora Lum and Dynamic Energy.
Old news, one might say. True, Brown’s conviction got a public airing at the time, largely because he was the son of Ron Brown.
Although it took place years ago, Michael Brown’s crime is not irrelevant. He wasn’t a child when it happened. The violation was no accident or innocent mistake. It was deliberate. Thus it goes to the matter of Brown’s honesty and integrity, qualities still regarded as essential in public officials.
In December, Brown surreptitiously inserted a provision in a budget bill authorizing online gambling in the nation’s capital. He did that without public hearing or vetting of the legislation. That, too, was hardly an open and transparent act.
In June, WAMU reported that the “Friends of Michael Brown” campaign committee received five checks or money orders on March 5 from Veteran Services Corp., or VSC, and several of its employees and family members.
VSC, as WAMU noted, is the local partner of Intralot, the Greek company contracted by D.C. Lottery to provide the software for the online gambling scheme that Brown concocted. WAMU also reported that VSC owns 51 percent of the deal. “It’s all legal and that’s the world we live in,” Brown told WAMU, when asked about VSC profiting from the online gambling law that he sponsored.
In December, Brown had little to say to District residents about his online gambling legislation. But he accepted an invitation to attend the Global iGaming Summit and Expo in San Francisco in May to tell gambling interests about how it was done.
And he went west at D.C. taxpayer expense. “The travel, approved by the Council, was standard governmental business to market the innovative legislation,” Brown wrote to me in an e-mail on Thursday.
When it comes to Brown’s claims: Trust, but verify.
Case in point: Dave McKenna’s piece in the Aug. 20, 2010, Washington City Paper debunking Brown’s claim to have been a high school All-Met basketball star.
Then there’s Brown’s claim on the Web sites of the D.C. Council and the Madison Group lobbying firm, where Brown now works, that he has “represented various foreign governments.”
I pursued that claim in a July 22 column. I didn’t get very far. Brown said he couldn’t talk about former clients, and he referred me to the Justice Department agency through which entities acting as agents of foreign principals must register. Brown did identify two governments — Benin and Ghana — and a “quasi-governmental organization,” Nigeria’s National Council on Privatization, as clients.
Following his suggestion, I reviewed records in Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act’s unit. I found no record of Brown’s claimed representation of foreign governments. I advised him of my findings.
Brown wrote in an Aug. 2 e-mail to me: “My representation of all foreign clients was of a business/commercial nature and did not trigger disclosure under the Foreign Agents Registration Act or the Lobbying Disclosure Act.”
He also cited, as reasons not to discuss foreign clients, the D.C. Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct, and its provision regarding attorney-client privilege and the protection of a client’s “confidence.”
But Brown is not a licensed attorney in the District. He hasn’t passed a D.C. Bar examination. He could, however, be covered by the rules if he was working under a lawyer’s supervision, a bar official told me.
Brown, in an e-mail, said he was being singled out, and he called my examination of his former clients and employment “misdirected” and “regretful and irresponsible.”
So he says. And D.C. voters?