What’s Not In D.C. Campaign Finance Reports
Anyone comparing Councilmember Michael Brown and challenger David Grosso's campaign finance reports would think that Brown is in trouble.
The most recent reports, filed Oct. 29, show Brown with little more than $7,000 left to spend in the week before the election. Grosso only has $14,500 left, but that's because he spent $82,000 in October, much of it on mailers and campaign materials. Brown, by contrast, only reports spending $24,000 during the same period. Indeed, there's been a couple stories noting the apparent financial advantages of Grosso's campaign.
Great, thanks. But a look beyond the campaign finance reports shows there's plenty of activity going on in support of Brown that's not in those reports. It's a reminder of the limited glimpse public documents provide of election spending. Here's three examples:
First, Brown has the strong support of labor unions, who can provide a large amount of manpower on election day or during early voting, free of charge or any detailed reporting requirements.
Next, there are direct campaign charges that aren't yet reported. Veteran field operative Harold Gist has worked for the Brown campaign for at least a couple of weeks now, but he didn't show up in the most recent campaign report. Brown campaign spokesman Asher Corson says that's because Gist hasn't yet submitted an invoice for any work. Corson says he doesn't know how much Gist's company has done for the campaign, and Gist didn't return a call seeking comment.
For a fee, Gist's company, the Lancer Group, can provide campaigns with fieldworkers and other help. Former D.C. Councilmember Kwame "Fully Loaded" Brown paid the Lancer Group more than $190,000 during the 2010 chairman's race. The campaigns of councilmembers Vincent Orange, Yvette Alexander, and Kenyan McDuffie have all paid Gist's company several thousands of dollars in recent races. Payments to a third-party contractor like Gist reveal another loophole in campaign finance reporting: the field workers he hires and how much they are paid don't have to be reported to elections officials. Instead, it's just a lump payment from campaigns to Gist's company.
Last but not least: the all important bused-in senior vote. No District election would be complete without ANC 5A Commissioner Bob King organizing buses to pick up seniors and get them to the polls. King says he had 15 buses making pick-ups at senior centers around the city during early voting and will have 25 buses in operation tomorrow. King, who is supporting all the Democratic candidates and Brown (who is a registered independent) estimates he'll be getting 8,000 to 9,000 seniors to the polls.
"I'll take enough for Michael Brown to win," says King. "I'll take enough for Vincent Orange to look like the king of kings."
King says he doesn't tell the seniors who to vote for, but the campaigns of his preferred candidates provide literature for seniors to read on their way to the polls. He also notes that were it not for his buses, the seniors likely wouldn't have an opportunity to vote. "It's a civic duty," he says.
So who pays for these buses? King says campaigns usually pay for the buses, but this year is different, because neither Orange or Brown have any money. (Orange spent most of his during the primary campaign.) So King says the buses are being paid for by unnamed donors. When asked for names, King replies: "I ain't telling you that."
A spokesman for OCF says if King is coordinating with Brown and Orange's campaigns, then the money spent on the buses will be treated as in-kind contributions and will have to be reported. Whether that actually comes to pass is a different story. In any event, there's a lot of money going into tomorrow's election that hasn't yet—and might never—show up on any campaign finance report.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery