Cam­paign-fi­nance law rife with gray ar­eas

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

A se­ri­ous turn in the fed­eral probe of D.C. Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray’s 2010 cam­paign and a re­cent trickle of sub­poe­nas to D.C. Coun­cil mem­bers is delv­ing into the tricky — and sup­pos­edly arms-length — role that can­di­dates play at the roulette wheel of po­lit­i­cal fund­ing and in­flu­ence.

While coun­cil mem­bers’ cam­paign teams scour their records, Mr. Gray faces new scru­tiny over the ex­is­tence of a “shadow cam­paign” — and, if one did ex­ist, the ex­tent to which he knew about it.

“They say ig­no­rance is gen­er­ally not an ex­cuse for vi­o­lat­ing the law, ex­cept when it comes to cam­paign fi­nance,” said Mered­ith Mcgehee, pol­icy di­rec­tor for the Cam­paign Le­gal Cen­ter in North­east. “The prob­lem for the can­di­date is, it can hurt you po­lit­i­cally, but of­ten the can­di­dates are the last ones to go.”

The Washington Post on Thurs­day re­ported the ex­is­tence of a par­al­lel, offthe-books ef­fort on the part of the Gray cam­paign to get out the 2010 vote, largely east of the Ana­cos­tia River. The re­port, based on cam­paign sources, sug­gested the ef­fort was or­ches­trated by Ver­non Hawkins, a long­time cam­paign con­sul­tant who was ousted as the di­rec­tor of the Depart­ment Hu­man Ser­vices dur­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion of for­mer Mayor Mar­ion Barry.

Mr. Gray’s spokesman, Pe­dro Ribeiro, de­clined to speak in de­tail about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion on Thurs­day, but de­scribed Mr. Hawkins as a “su­per­vol­un­teer” who hung around and had no of­fi­cial role in the cam­paign.

“You get that in all cam­paigns,” he said.

Cam­paign-fi­nance fil­ings show small pay­ments to Mr. Hawkins dur­ing Mr. Gray’s ini­tial run to se­cure the Ward 7 seat on the coun­cil in 2004, and then a smat­ter­ing of petty cash pay­ments and $17,500 in con­sult­ing fees dur­ing Mr. Gray’s run for coun­cil chair­man in 2006. No ex­pen­di­tures to Mr. Hawkins are listed in Mr. Gray’s 2010 fil­ings.

While firm de­tails about the Gray in­ves­ti­ga­tion are scant, fed­eral prose­cu­tors’ look at the coun­cil is a bit clearer. In­ves­ti­ga­tors showed in­ter­est in do­na­tions from pro­lific con­trib­u­tor Jef­frey E. Thompson, his com­pa­nies and his as­so­ciates by send­ing spe­cific records re­quests to the cam­paigns of at least six coun­cil mem­bers. Mr. Thompson is an ac­com­plished ac­coun­tant who holds a $300 mil­lion man­aged-care con­tract with the Dis­trict through his D.C. Char­tered Health Plan and has do­nated to al­most all of the Dis­trict’s sit­ting politi­cians.

“It means they turned up some­thing. They kind of have to have that first lit­tle in­di­ca­tion.” Ms. Mcgehee said of the sub­poe­nas. “Ev­ery­one could kind of

BAR­BARA L. SAL­IS­BURY/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties have been re­view­ing D.C. Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray’s 2010 cam­paign since last year.

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