AN AUDIT of the finances of D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown’s at-large reelection campaign in 2008 didn’t pull any punches. Widespread irregularities and discrepancies involving tens of thousands of dollars were uncovered; even more troubling was the finding that inadequate or missing records made a full accounting of Mr. Brown’s political activities impossible. Now the question is whether the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance will insist on real resolution of these unsettling issues — or try to sweep them under the rug. That the hearing into the matter will be held behind closed doors is not a good omen.
The Committee to Re-Elect Kwame R. Brown is set to appear Monday before the Office of Campaign Finance to show why it should not be fined for violations of the agency’s rules. A six-month review of Mr. Brown’s campaign committee found numerous problems with how $824,000 was raised, spent and reported. Among the revelations by Audit Manager Renee Coleman was that the campaign failed to account for $133,701 in raised revenue or to report $169,431 in expenditures. Particularly startling was the discovery that a good chunk of campaign money, 30 percent, or some $239,000, was routed through one company before ending up in the coffers of a firm run by Mr. Brown’s brother. This spending occurred in the context of a race in which Mr. Brown was essentially unopposed.
It apparently is the campaign office’s practice to make investigative hearings of this nature closed to the public. That is nevertheless disappointing given the significant public interest in this issue and the inadequacy of Mr. Brown’s explanations. The failure to account for more than quarter-million dollars in donations and expenses is more than the minor “administrative errors” Mr. Brown described. The claim that his brother’s firm, Partners in Learning, was brought in only when the first company, Banner Consulting, couldn’t get the work done is belied by records showing an agreement between Banner and Partners in Learning was reached on the same day the campaign contracted with Banner.
As to the lack of detailed documentation for $169,164, Mr. Brown told us it was because it went to “day labor” expenses; consultants for other political campaigns say they routinely get receipts for such work, particularly since the IRS requires the reporting of payments of more than $600 per individual.
The committee could face a maximum fine of $2,000 per violation, although the exact number of violations has yet to be determined. Simply assessing fines — which Mr. Brown could probably pay easily by raising even more money — would do little to clear up the mystery surrounding this money. Nor would it resolve whether, as a recent report by the City Paper’s Loose Lips column suggested, there should be a similar examination of Mr. Brown’s 2010 campaign for council chairman.
Too many of the city’s elected officials face troubling questions about the conduct of their professional lives. That there never seem to be any answers (will we ever learn whether Ward 5 council member Harry Thomas (D) was forthcoming with the records he was under court order to produce?) undercuts confidence in the government and its ability to govern. The Brown case should be presented to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics for referral to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.