WASHINGTON (AP) — More than $110,000 has gone missing from the campaign account of D.C. Councilmember Michael A. Brown, forcing the at-large independent to start from scratch in his bid for a second term.
Brown reported the money missing in June. But he declined to disclose the dollar amount until Monday night, when he filed amended campaign finance reports. The reports detailed $113,950 in "unexplained expenditures" to Hakim Sutton, Brown's former campaign treasurer, who was fired after the discovery that the money was missing.
Sutton has not been charged with any crime, but a police spokeswoman said Tuesday that the investigation into Brown's allegations is "very active." Sutton did not immediately return a message seeking comment and has not offered any public explanation for the missing money.
The unexplained expenditures essentially wiped out Brown's campaign war chest, finance reports show. Brown managed to raise another $30,000 through August 10 and has continued to raise money since, and he said he hopes at least some of the missing money will be recovered by authorities.
Brown issued a statement late Monday night apologizing to his supporters. But he struck a more defiant tone in a news conference Tuesday afternoon, dismissing suggestions that he bore any responsibility for the missing money. He noted that numerous elected officials in California, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, had been victimized by a campaign treasurer who pleaded guilty this spring to embezzling millions of dollars.
"I don't believe that being a victim of a crime reflects badly on the campaign," Brown said. "I think it reflects badly on the thief."
Brown said in a letter to the district's campaign finance office that police and prosecutors have assured him they have "a strong case against the perpetrator of the theft." He conceded Tuesday that he would have discovered the missing money sooner if he had examined his campaign's bank statements and not just the finance reports. He is now serving as his own treasurer.
According to his amended campaign finance reports, Brown had a negative cash balance as of June 10. By Aug. 10, he had nearly $18,000 in cash on hand.
Brown faces several challengers in the Nov. 6 election. The best-funded are independent David Grosso, who had more than $55,000 in cash as of Aug. 10, and Republican Mary Brooks Beatty, who had more than $22,000.
"This puts us on a level playing field with Michael Brown. We have worked hard for a year to raise the money that we've raised from individuals across the city," said Grosso, who is running on a pledge to reform a city government perceived as corrupt. "We're really excited now that we're in a good position to win this race."
Grosso and Beatty both said Brown had a pattern of sloppiness with his finances.
"I think it shows a total lack of accountability on his part. The person who is running the campaign should be making sure that the money is spent correctly," said Beatty, who called on Brown to drop out of the race.
An audit of Brown's 2008 campaign found more than $150,000 in unreported expenditures. In 1997, Brown pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor campaign finance violation for making straw contributions to the campaign of Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Brown, who also works as a lobbyist, is the son of the late Ronald Brown, who served as Commerce secretary in the Clinton administration and died in a plane crash in 1996.
He ran unsuccessfully for mayor and a council seat before dropping his Democratic Party affiliation and winning election to one of the district's two at-large council seats reserved for minority parties.
Last year, he led the push to make the district the nation's first jurisdiction to offer online gambling within its borders, but the council ultimately rejected the effort.
Brown is currently serving as the council's interim chairman pro tempore, and he chairs its influential economic development committee.
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