VO Says He’s In the Clear, But He’s Not
At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange appeared on Newstalk with Bruce DePuyt today to proclaim that he's completely free of any taint associated with the illegal activity that took place on Mayor Vince Gray's 2010 campaign.
Specifically, Orange said a preliminary audit by the Office of Campaign Finance of donations tied to Medicaid contractor Jeff Thompson had cleared Orange of any wrongdoing. Orange called for this review after Thompson's home and office were raided by the feds, and reporters started asking Orange about the large amounts of donations, especially in the form of money orders, he's received from Thompson.
"My records are clear and I'm moving on," Orange said today. In a news release last night, Orange said the preliminary audit represented a "victory."
Hmm, maybe not so much. Says OCF spokesman Wesley Williams: "Those are the words of the councilmember, the audit is not complete."
When pressed on Newstalk about the money orders that Orange himself had once said were "suspicious and questionable," Orange said he no longer has concerns about those contributions. He said the campaign correctly documented whose names were on those money orders, their occupations, their addresses, and so forth, and "that's where my responsibility ends."
He also noted that OCF has reviewed his campaign four times and found no wrongdoing: "It's been examined to death."
Yeah, that's also not really true.
When Orange handed in his first campaign finance report for the 2011 election, OCF staff reviewed the donors and found many donations were coming from similar addresses. As is standard protocol, OCF then asked Orange for copies of the checks and money orders of all the donations that shared an address with other donors. That's the extent of the review: to make sure that the checks actually came in from the people listed on the report. There's no search of bank records or interviews with any of the donors to make sure that campaign laws weren't being broken—for instance, in a straw donation scheme.
That kind of work is actually being done by federal law enforcement officials. And anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to what they're up to knows that when the feds started diving into the bank records of Jeanne Clarke Harris, a long time associate of Thompson's and a frequent contributor to Orange's campaigns, they found all sorts of illegal activity.
In court last week, Harris admitted to using Thompson's money to make $44,000 worth of straw donations to Gray's 2010 mayoral campaign. She also admitted to being a straw donor in federal races. Harris would have her companies, friends, family, and employees give money to candidates, then reimburse them with Thompson's money, she said in court. She added that none of her straw donor associates had the means to make those contributions themselves. And at a news conference after Harris' guilty plea, U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said Harris' straw donor schemes have been going on since 2001.
Which brings us back to Orange, whose 2011 campaign received thousands of dollars from Harris' companies, family members, and employees, some in the form of money orders. Just a quick glance at Orange's campaign records shows two $1,000 checks from Harris' companies, three $1,000 money orders from Harris' sister and nieces, a $1,000 money order from Harris' mother, and a $1,000 check from one of her employees. Most of those same donors are listed as contributors to Gray's campaign. Harris has declined to comment, and her associates did not return calls seeking comment.
Orange may have clearly documented the details of those donors, but that hardly puts his campaign in the clear. And Orange may be ready to move on, but voters shouldn't—until they get a full explanation as to whose money was funding Orange's campaign.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery