Barras: Campaign finance mismanagement

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

It must be in the water. Perhaps that's the reason D.C. politicians can't seem to properly manage their campaign funds.

Mayoral candidate Vincent C. Gray allegedly didn't know cash from his campaign went to pay one of his opponents to trash the incumbent in the 2010 Democratic primary. Gray has yet to indicate whether he knew about that $650,000 shadow operation. The U.S. attorney currently is investigating his 2010 campaign.

Vincent Orange initially didn't know his campaign had received "suspicious money orders," allegedly provided by bundler extraordinaire Jeffrey E. Thompson.

This week, in a report to the Office of Campaign Finance, Michael Brown tagged his former treasurer, Hakim Sutton, with embezzling more than $100,000 from his political committee. The at-large councilman said he discovered the theft in June 2012 -- though there were unexplained expenditures dating back to July 2011. (Sutton's lawyer, J. Wyndal Gordon, issued a statement strongly disputing Brown's allegations.)

Why didn't any of those seasoned pols know about the mismanagement occurring under their noses?

Gray has said the 2010 campaign was short and intense. Orange has offered a similar excuse -- though he was his committee's treasurer. Brown told the media he reviewed campaign reports but not bank statements.

Holy mackerel. The money was in the bank; it probably would have offered the most accurate accounting of his campaign's finances.

During an interview with me, Brown praised himself for discovering the theft: "Mismanagement is not finding out at all." He asserted other politicians had funds stolen from their campaigns. "There is no higher ethics than blowing the whistle on your own organization."

At and earlier press conference, Brown told "supporters and contributors" he was sorry the embezzlement happened "under my leadership."

Personal and professional money woes have plagued Brown for years. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violations. This year, residents learned about a $50,000 federal tax lien and outstanding local property taxes owed by Brown. He has since paid his local taxes and made arrangements with the Internal Revenue Service.

An Office of Campaign Finance audit of Brown's 2008 campaign found serious problems, including checks returned for insufficient funds; two checks -- $150 and $500 -- written to him but only one entering the committee's account; and checks written to cash. There also was more than $100,000 in unreported expenditures. Then, Brown was the treasurer. OCF allowed him to submit an amended report in October 2008 -- eight days before the general election.

This week, Brown filed a different report, covering March 10, 2012 through Aug. 10, 2012 and incorporating "unexplained expenditures" attributed to Sutton. The OCF is conducting an investigative audit of Brown's 2012 committee.

This all seems like a rerun of an earlier movie: A pol's personal and professional finances are in disarray and campaign funds somehow end up missing; things end badly: Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown resigned from office; he later pleaded guilty to felony bank fraud and violating local campaign finance laws.

"Lumping me with that is not fair and not right," argued Michael Brown.

I'm just saying.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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