“Not in substantial compliance.” That’s the devastating finding of the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance on whether D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) followed the law as he raised and spent money in his successful 2008 reelection campaign for an at-large council seat. The report shatters whatever credibility Mr. Brown had for the responsible management of money; the many still unanswered questions demand further review of his political finances.
A final audit of Mr. Brown’s 2008 reelection campaign released last week revealed extensive irregularities and discrepancies in how $824,000 in campaign funds was collected, reported and spent. Gaps existed between what was reported and what was collected and spent; there were inappropriate cash payments. Most troubling was the revelation that 30 percent of the money, about $239,000, was funneled through one company formed by Mr. Brown’s 2004 campaign treasurer, Banner Consulting, to another firm, Partners in Learning — which was run by Mr. Brown’s brother, Che Brown. The audit noted the “close proximity” in time of payments made by the campaign committee to Banner and those from Banner to Partners in Learning.
Mr. Brown told The Post’s Tim Craig that there was no intent to hide payments to his brother. He said that Banner was the campaign’s original choice to do field work and when it proved not up to the task it subcontracted the work to Partners in Learning. How then to explain the auditor’s finding that the very day the campaign contracted with Banner, June 1, 2007, Banner entered into an agreement with Partners in Learning? Banner must have proved itself unworthy awfully fast. And why is it that Banner, which is no longer in operation, didn’t file its articles of incorporation until July 2007, two months after that agreement but before it received its first payment? Why is there not adequate documentation to substantiate the expenses claimed by Partners in Learning, depicted as a sales coaching firm? Keep in mind that this was an election in which Mr. Brown was essentially unopposed.
The 2008 campaign was not the first time Mr. Brown’s campaign funds were passed through a company, operated by a political ally, to family members. After he won the 2004 Democratic primary and was all but guaranteed a victory in the November general election, according to a Post report in 2005, Mr. Brown’s campaign paid $64,276 to a political consulting firm formed by a friend, with some of the money going to Mr. Brown’s brother and father.
The issues here involve more than simple bookkeeping lapses. Mr. Brown, the District’s second-highest elected official, has come under scrutiny in the last year for problems with his personal debt and a selfish disregard for taxpayers’ money as shown by his demands for a luxury vehicle. So it’s distressing that his campaign committee didn’t provide some of the requested documents; as a result, the audit — despite best efforts during a six-month review — “cannot attest” that the reports filed “fairly represent the financial activity of the campaign.”
The Office of Campaign Finance has set a hearing for April 18, when Mr. Brown’s committee will be asked to show why it should not be fined for violations of its provisions. The office also has the option of referring the matter to the U.S. attorney. That is the logical next step.