Did the Office of Campaign Finance Contradict Itself?
The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance had a busy day yesterday, issuing final orders in separate inquiries concerning the D.C. Democratic State Committee and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.
But the inquiries weren't entirely separate. One matter in the Gray probe concerned a fundraising letter he sent to Comcast in 20008 seeking a $20,000 donation to support voting-rights activities at the Democratic National Convention—a donation to be deposited into the convention fund that was the subject of the DCDSC inquiry.
That connection alights on an inconsistency brought to LL's attention by Paul Craney, executive director of the D.C. Republican Committee. And Craney, LL has determined, has a point.
OCF found that the convention account was an official organ of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, subject to regulations providing for contribution limits and donor disclosure, among other things. At the same time, it determined that Gray was in the clear raising money for that very account using his official stationery and the trappings of his office—in fact, that he was "acting within his duties as Chairperson of the D.C. Council."
"There's no way you can say that soliciting a campaign contribution on council stationery is within the duties of the council chairman," Craney says.
OCF has covered itself with a fig leaf—that being Gray's insistence that he was raising money only for voting-rights advocacy. The agency's final order found that Gray, as chairman, is "imbued with the authority to uphold the District statutes and regulations, which includes that of securing voting rights in the District of Columbia" and that he "was a nominated Delegate therefor[e] and sought to advance the cause of voting rights in the District of Columbia" by sending the letter.
How big of a deal might the inconsistency be? If you believe Craney, it does nothing less than give elected officials carte blanche to "use their council resources to raise money for any political committee they want," he says. "It's not opening the door a little bit. It's breaking down the door."
A stricter reading would indicate that claiming "voting rights" as a fundraising rationale would indeed immunize an officeholder, or at least as long as they're a convention delegate.
Craney says the D.C. Republicans are considering some sort of challenge to the rulings—which could include intervention via the Board of Elections and Ethics or the D.C. courts. "We're probably the most lawyered up committee in the whole country," he notes. "But that costs money."