WASHINGTON, DC - MAR 10: Jeffrey E. Thompson is thronged by journalists as he leaves the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, March 10, 2014. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)
Opinion writer

The essence of home rule is the ability of residents to elect their own leaders. When the electoral process is corrupted, as evidenced by the continuing stream of convictions for campaign-finance violations, D.C. self-government itself is jeopardized. Thus, a continued focus on offenders.

This week, Jeff Smith, a 2010 Democratic candidate for the Ward 1 council seat, learned the debt he must pay for receiving and concealing illegal campaign contributions and filing false and misleading reports with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance. On Thursday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Anita Josey-Herring sentenced Smith to 60 days in jail, a year of probation and a $10,000 fine.

Colbert I. “Colby” King writes a column -- sometimes about D.C., sometimes about politics -- on that runs on Saturdays. In 2003, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. King joined the Post’s editorial board in 1990 and served as deputy editorial page editor from 2000 to 2007. View Archive

Does that satisfy all of Smith’s obligations?

If you are one of the “few close friends and trusted advisers” — as they were addressed in an e-mail Smith sent June 22, the day before he pleaded guilty — you may conclude that Smith owes you something.

His depiction of himself in the e-mail as a sacrificial victim conflicts sharply with the facts to which he stipulated in the Statement of Offense signed by him, his lawyer and federal prosecutors.

Smith’s e-mail, however, had the desired effect. One recipient who wrote to me on June 23 gave me permission to use her comments without her name attached. She expressed anger toward the office of U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, which prosecuted Smith. Describing Smith as “one of our city’s success stories,” she said he “was forced to plea to this conspiracy charge.” She added: “The tactics Machen’s team used to extract this deal were under-handed at best and unethical and an abuse of power at its worst.”

I contacted Smith, and he confirmed that he wrote the June 22 e-mail, which gave an account of his dealings with federal prosecutors and Jeffrey Thompson, the businessman who has pleaded guilty to charges involving illegal contributions to several federal and D.C. political campaigns.

Smith wrote in his e-mail that in 2009 he was approached through “several friends and business leaders by Jeff Thompson with an offer to be my campaign finance chair and ‘raise all the resources necessary for a viable campaign.’ ” Smith said that before that, he knew Thompson only through work on the 2006 Linda Cropp mayoral campaign.

Smith said Thompson raised thousands of dollars, as he had promised, adding that “apparently Thompson was reimbursing these ‘donors’ for the contributions from his own money. That is illegal.”

Smith’s e-mail leveled serious charges against Machen’s office, some of which Smith repeated at his Thursday sentencing.

“I noticed such irregularities in my own campaigns fundraising in 2010 while signing thank you letters. I mistakenly volunteered this information to the Attorney General’s office” — Smith told me he intended to write “U.S. Attorney’s office” — “under the advice of counsel as part of their investigation of Jeff Thompson. This information was obtained as part of a promise of immunity — a promise which the government later retracted,” he declared.

“Since many of my close friends and family members were involved in my campaign,” wrote Smith, “the government has promised to drum up allegations against them if I failed to enter a plea of any sort. So I have agreed to plead guilty . . . in exchange for the governments promise not to prosecute any of the individuals who prepared these reports or worked with Thompson.”

Contacted about those charges, U.S. Attorney spokesman William Miller e-mailed on June 24, “We deny the allegations contained in the emails.” Of course, if Smith or his lawyer believed prosecutorial misconduct had occurred, they could have withdrawn from the plea and taken up the matter with the Justice Department, the judge and the public at trial.

Smith’s charges must be squared with his admissions as contained in court papers.

According to the government’s sentencing memorandum to Josey-Herring, Smith admitted that he conspired with Thompson to receive more than $140,000 in unreported campaign contributions; said he was involved in the illegal funding scheme and discussed the funding with Thompson; and acknowledged that he coordinated with others to hide the source and nature of the funds by channeling them from Thompson’s company through a charter school and a company controlled by Smith’s de facto campaign manager and close associate, identified as Campaign Manager A.

Court documents also show that Smith admitted he knew that in addition to the $140,000, Thompson further illegally funded Smith’s campaign through contributions he made in others’ names.

Contradicting Smith’s claims, prosecutors maintain that Smith understood that the success of the scheme depended on hiding it from the public, so he filed a false and misleading report with the city’s office of campaign finance.

And to think: Smith campaigned in 2010 against corruption, blasting incumbent Jim Graham for the “insidious aggregate of tolerated corruption” and for his relationship with city contractors. All the while Smith was taking illegal contributions from Thompson, whose D.C. Chartered Health Plan was the District’s largest contractor.

Sentence aside, what does Smith owe the 3,159 Ward 1 residents who backed him? And home-rule defenders?

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.