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Examiner Local Editorial: Norton won't return tainted cash

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Opinion,Local Editorial

President Obama, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine have all either returned or donated campaign contributions from former D.C. Medicaid contractor Jeffrey Thompson. The reason is that Thompson allegedly funded a secret and illegal $653,000 "shadow campaign" in 2010 to help Vincent Gray defeat then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's Democratic representative to Congress, has not followed suit.

Political operative Eugenia Harris has already pleaded guilty in federal court to acting as a straw-donor, funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign donations from Thompson's network to Gray's mayoral campaign -- the focus of an ongoing federal investigation. But Norton has steadfastly refused to return more than $50,000 she received from Thompson and his associates since 2006, even though U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. pointedly noted that the "conspiracy" extended to federal offices in the District.

As the Washington Times reported in July, Norton received nearly $20,000 from executives of Thompson's accounting firm and their family members on Oct. 27, 2010 -- less than a week before she won re-election in a 88.9 percent landslide. Last week, Norton's Libertarian opponent, Bruce Majors, launched a website (EleanorGiveItBack.com) that challenges her refusal to donate "Thompson's dirty dollars" to nonprofit groups in the city that help the poor.

Norton, who never faces a serious election challenge, funnels much of her campaign cash to other Democrats, but that doesn't mean she isn't aggressive in raising it. Recall that in 2010, she left a threatening voice mail for a lobbyist demanding that he pony up.

According to OpenSecrets.org, the 11-term congresswoman raised $271,503 in the 2011-2012 election cycle -- and spent $335,702 on a race against unknown and underfunded challengers that virtually nobody expects her to lose. In the current election cycle, $154,500 (57 percent) came from mostly union PACs, $108,650 (40 percent) from large individual contributors, including real estate developers, and only $8,115 (3 percent) from small individual donors in the District.

Norton has offered a very inadequate explanation for why she will not return suspect donations from Thompson's network -- including $2,300 she received from Harris in 2008. "I don't have any reason to believe that any of the contributions were illegal," she told The Washington Examiner's Alan Blinder in July. But if a federal corruption investigation an conviction is reason enough for President Obama, Norton should tell D.C. voters why it isn't reason enough for her.

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