Who Got Straw Donor Cash?
As LL noted at the end of this week's column, Jeanne Clarke Harris' admitted campaign corruption extends far beyond Mayor Vince Gray. U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said this week that she's been running a straw donor scheme to circumvent legal limits on campaign giving since 2001. It takes about 30 seconds on the Office of Campaign Finance's website to see that Harris and various entities associated with her have given to just about everybody who is anybody in District politics.
In court on Tuesday, Harris admitted to giving $44,000 worth of straw donations to the Gray campaign in 2010. All of that money came from Medicaid contractor Jeff Thompson (whose vast political giving LL was the first to report on) and was funnel to the campaign through Harris' friends, her family members, and her two companies Details International and Belle International. The donors would make the contribution and be listed on official forms as having given it; Thompson would reimburse them, putting his total contributions far beyond what the laws allow.
Leaving aside the friends and family members for a second, here's a list of pols, besides Gray, who have received money from those two companies:
- Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander
- Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry
- Former City Administrator and School Board President Robert Bobb
- Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser
- Former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame "Fully Loaded" Brown
- At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown
- At-Large Councilmember David Catania
- Former D.C. Council Chairman and mayoral candidate Linda Cropp
- Former Mayor Adrian Fenty
- Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham
- Former Ward 7 and at-large council candidate Mark Long
- D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson
- At-large Councilmember Vincent Orange
- Former City Administrator and Ward 6 candidate Kelvin Robinson
- Former At-Large Councilmember and mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz
- Ward 4 Candidate Doug Sloan
- Former Ward 5 Councilmember and current federal prison inmate Harry Thomas Jr.
- Former Mayor Anthony Williams
Exactly how much each of these politicians got from Harris and her associated companies or people, of course, is hard to figure out; that's the point of using the straw donations.
Were all the donations from these two companies straw donations? It's certainly possible; almost every donation from those two companies came at the same time in the same amount (the maximum allowed by law) as other donations from Thompson, his companies, or some other entity in his vast network of donors. On the day before the primary in 2010, Mendelson received at least 13 donations of $1,000 each from Thompson's network, including Harris' companies, Thompson's companies, Thompson's employees and family members, campaign finance records show. In court records, the feds say when Thompson threw a fundraiser he would "direct Harris to obtain contribution checks" from her friends, family, and employees, then reimburse them with Thompson's money. Thompson would take the checks and give them to the politicians personally.
Did the politicians know what was going on? That's the rub.
As Catania noted yesterday when he called for the mayor to resign, Thompson is the type of contributor who wants politicians to know how much money he is giving them. Thompson made a lot of money off of city contracts, and it was in his best interest to let politicians know how helpful he could be to their campaigns. But LL has seen copies of some Harris-related donations, and there's nothing at first blush that would indicate anything out of the ordinary. Anyway, as Gray said yesterday at a news conference, it's not always possible for a candidate to pore over every check that comes into a campaign. So it's perfectly plausible that pols were unaware that anything amiss with donations coming from Harris.
Now whether they should have known better is an entirely different question.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery