Muriel Bowser attracts big money in campaign’s final days

Muriel Bowser attracts big money in campaign’s final days

By Mike DeBonis, Updated: March 28 at 6:18 pm

There are many ways to measure momentum, and one is in dollars and cents.

By that measure, Muriel Bowser’s mayoral campaign is building steam in the final days before the Democratic primary, gathering tens of thousands of dollars in donations to supplement its get-out-the-vote war chest.

Daily reports filed this week with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance show Bowser’s campaign taking in $63,500 in new donations since Monday’s reporting deadline, much of it from corporate contributors or business executives who have previously donated to other candidates. That’s more than 10 times the amount reported by incumbent Vincent C. Gray, who is tied with Bowser in recent polls.

They include $8,000 in donations from companies linked to developer Chris Donatelli, $2,000 from developer McCullough Residential, $2,500 from companies linked to Georgetown businessman Russell Lindner, $1,000 from Calvin Cafritz Investments (developer of a particularly controversial Connecticut Avenue apartment building), $2,000 from Blue Skye Development, headed by Adrian Fenty compatriot Bryan “Scottie” Irving, and $500 from Solanges Vivens, owner of a health care company that has been the target of a union organizing campaign.

Other listed donors include trash-hauling firms Bowie’s and Carter Enterprises; Scott Hall, general manager of Zipcar; Robert Flanagan, an executive vice president at Clark Enterprises, the construction and development giant; John Barron, president of Foulger-Pratt Contracting; and Mallory Walker, former president and chief executive of the Walker & Dunlop real-estate finance firm.

Campaign authorities have posted only one daily report for incumbent Vincent C. Gray’s campaign, meanwhile, totaling about $5,000. Six of the eleven donors listed are member of Gray’s Cabinet. (Campaign manager Chuck Thies said another roughly $16,000 in donations under $200, which do not need to be reported, have been collected this week.)

Jack Evans listed about $3,500 in new money, including a nearly $1,000 in-kind contribution from BLT Steak downtown. Tommy Wells listed $900 in new donations, and Vincent Orange listed a single $2,000 donation, from the Cheverly motel where Wells held a news conference in January to highlight the plight of the homeless families living there at the city’s behest.


Bowser, Gray Tied in Washington City Paper/Kojo Nnamdi Show Poll

Bowser, Gray Tied in Washington City Paper/Kojo Nnamdi Show Poll

Posted by Will Sommer on Mar. 21, 2014 at 6:00 am

Ward 4 D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser is in a dead heat with Mayor Vince Gray in the mayoral race two weeks before the primary, a new poll commissioned by Washington City Paper and WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show reveals.

Bowser and Gray both received 27 percent of the vote in the poll of 860 likely Democratic primary voters. The automated phone poll, conducted between March 13 and 16 by Public Policy Polling, is the first public poll since shadow campaign benefactor Jeff Thompson pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and accused Gray of knowing about the scheme last week, and it shows voters heavily believe Thompson’s account.

"I think everybody has to admit this is a two-person race," Bowser campaign manager Bo Shuff tells LL.

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans had 13 percent. Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells had 9 percent, the first time in the race that he’s dipped below double digits in a public poll. The poll had a +/-3.3 percentage point margin of error.

Surprisingly, the Thompson plea last week didn’t noticeably affect Gray’s numbers between public polls, with Gray receiving 28 percent of likely voters in a February survey. Still, Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies says the mayor was polling higher than 28 percent in the campaign’s own surveys immediately before the Thompson plea.

Gray’s campaign, which had the largest bank account in the race in last week’s campaign filings, plans to make up the lost support in the final days of the campaign with more mailers and canvassers, according to Thies. He blames the discrepancy between voter satisfaction with the city’s direction and Gray’s poll numbers on Gray being mistreated between the media and his opponents.

“The only logical conclusion is a protracted smear campaign," Thies says.

But if Thompson’s plea isn’t swaying Gray’s most devoted supporters, voters do know who of the two that they believe. The poll asked a question that echoed Gray’s rhetorical one at last week’s State of the District address: Who do you believe, Gray or Thompson? It found 48 percent of respondents believed Thompson’s version of the 2010 campaign was more accurate than Gray’s, compared to just 24 percent who believed Gray more than Thompson.

Thies blamed the unappetizing numbers for the mayor on people who confused the shadow campaign financier with other famous Thompsons, like former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson.

“You’re asking this in the days immediately after the Washington Post had a reckless headline that would influence public opinion," Thies says. "So that to me is a worthless question."

While Bowser and Gray are tied as voters’ first picks, they weren’t equally chosen as the second choice for voters—but the majority of respondents said their support was pretty firm.

Of those whose support was not very or not at all strong, 39 percent chose Bowser as their second choice, followed by Evans with 18 percent and Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal with 11 percent. A mere 10 percent chose Gray as their second choice, while 8 percent would opt for Wells.

Evans, who had been nearly tied with Bowser as the second choice in the February poll, disputed the accuracy of the second-choice rankings this time around. "Everybody likes me, but I’m the second choice of everybody," Evans says.

Despite his dipping poll numbers, Wells insists he hasn’t lost hopes in his chances. Instead, he cited a poll by a labor group which he wouldn’t name, that he says put him in third place, and anticipated more spending from firefighter and police unions that recently endorsed him.

“I don’t believe that Vince Gray’s going to be at 27 percent at the end of this week," Wells says.

Like many recent D.C. elections, the results split along racial lines. White voters favored Bowser, while a plurality of black respondents supported Gray:

White voters were also far less likely to believe Gray over Thompson when it came to the shadow campaign. While black voters were nearly equally divided over whether they believed Gray, Thompson, or didn’t know who to believe, 69 percent of white voters believed Thompson compared to only 10 percent who believed Gray.

The survey was the third PPP poll for City Paper and the Kojo Nnamdi Show; the pollsters predicted Gray’s winning margin in the 2010 Democratic primary and put independent David Grosso within reach of incumbent Michael Brown in the 2012 at-large D.C. Council race, which Grosso won. Full crosstabs and results from additional questions will be published online Wednesday and featured in next week’s print edition of City Paper. Tune into today’s Kojo Nnamdi Show at noon to hear some discussion of the poll’s findings, too.

Children’s Health Program in Jeopardy

Children’s Health Program in Jeopardy

More than 81,000 in District Could Lose Coverage

Stacy M. Brown, Washington Informer | 3/19/2014, 3 p.m.

Courtesy photo

Funding for a federally administered health insurance program for children could end next year and jeopardize about 8 million youngsters who depend upon it to visit their doctors, emergency rooms and other medical facilities.

“As states are adjusting to a variety of health system changes, it is essential that Congress secure the Children’s Health Insurance Program’s future so that states can operate their programs without interruption,” Bruce Lesley, president of the Northwest-based national bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus, wrote in a letter dated March 13 to lawmakers and co-signed by more than 400 local, state and national organizations.

While about 8 million are enrolled nationwide in the program – known as CHIP – more than 81,000 D.C. residents rely on the insurance.

CHIP provides health coverage to children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but who cannot afford private coverage.

The program, which started in 1997, provides federal matching funds to states for the coverage and federal spending climbed to $13 billion in 2013, approximately 8 percent more than the previous year.

“If the CHIP funding cliff is not addressed, important gains in children’s coverage would be lost,” Lesley said.

“While the Affordable Care Act holds great promise for the millions of Americans who have lacked an affordable coverage option, especially uninsured adults, it will take time and experience to know how new coverage options, eligibility rules, enrollment systems, policies and procedures, benefits, plans and provider networks are working to meet the unique health and developmental needs of children,” he said.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 extends CHIP funding through Oct. 1, 2015 and it provides an additional $40 million in federal funding to continue efforts to promote enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP.

However, some lawmakers and others have questioned the need to continue the program because of the coverage available under the ACA.

“We don’t want to destroy anything, but it’s not something that can continue in perpetuity either,” said Donna Checkett, a commissioner and vice president of business development for Aetna’s Medicaid division in Hartford, Conn., a news service for physicians that provides a clinical perspective on breaking medical news, reported that it’s difficult for policymakers to know how best to handle CHIP beneficiaries, given the ACA’s insurance exchanges are in their relative infancy.

“Exchanges are not yet ready to function as a strong pediatric policy,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) member and health policy professor at George Washington University in Northwest.

“Is it a good idea to make a universal marketplace function more responsibly for children? Or is it a good idea to keep a separate pediatric financing arrangement? Because every time children get thrown in with adults, you worry that things will skew toward adults,” Rosenbaum said.

MACPAC commissioner Judy Moore, a health consultant in Annapolis, Md., said the organization should work to recommend some sort of transition between the current CHIP program and one where children are fully protected and covered through plans on the ACA’s health insurance exchanges.

“Now is a time of transition to a whole new world in health care coverage and access, and I don’t think we should be pushing things that we don’t really understand very much about, while the world is settling out around health plans, and benefit design, and exchanges,” Moore said.

MACPAC commissioners will likely make their recommendation to Congress in a June report to lawmakers and, while it’s unlikely Congress will address the issue this year, it will be an issue in 2015, and states will be forced to deal with it in their budgets starting next year as well.

Officials at the American Academy of Pediatrics in Northwest said earlier this year that CHIP should HYPERLINK "" t "_blank" be fully funded through at least 2019.

Those most at risk of losing coverage are the more than 5 million children who live in states where the CHIP program operates separately from Medicaid.

The program works well and it’s a bipartisan program with a strong track record of successes, at a time when nearly one in five children lives in poverty, said Olivia Potter, a pediatrician and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“As we commemorate the five-year anniversary of the last time CHIP was renewed, I urge you to contact your congressman and discuss the need to once again extend CHIP and invest in children’s health,” she said.

Marion Barry will formally endorse Vincent Gray

Marion Barry will formally endorse Vincent Gray

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Updated: March 18 at 1:38 pm

Four-term mayor and current D.C. Council member Marion Barry will formally endorse Mayor Vincent C. Gray for reelection Wednesday, days after Barry gave his first interviews in support of the embattled mayor and stumped for him in his home Ward 8.

While the endorsement comes as little surprise, Barry had kept his mayoral preferences to himself until relatively recently, as Gray’s foes — particularly council colleague Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) — had sought to woo him to their own camps. Barry’s nod comes four years after he vigorously campaigned on Gray’s behalf, though there never was a formal endorsement ceremony. Since then, Gray and Barry have occasionally tangled but have maintained a cordial relationship as Gray seeks to rack up big margins among Barry loyalists.

News of the endorsement was first tweeted Tuesday by WUSA-TV reporter Bruce Johnson, and the Gray campaign shortly afterward issued an embargoed advisory listing details of the event. Post reporter Paul Schwartzman inadvertently tweeted about the advisory, prompting Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies to publicly accuse Schwartzman of “shoddy reporting” and brag about ending a phone call between them with explicit language. Schwartzman apologized, and The Post has independently confirmed the impending Barry endorsement with a person familiar with the mayor’s plans.

LaToya Foster, a spokeswoman for Barry, said he intends to announce his mayoral endorsement at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, a congregation near the Anacostia Metro that is led by a close ally of Barry and Gray. Its pastor, Matthew Hudson, delivered the invocation at Gray’s State of the District address last week and chairs the board of United Medical Center, the city-owned hospital in Ward 8.

Barry, 78, recently left an inpatient physical rehabilitation center, wrapping up two lengthy stays in medical facilities. He continues to undergo physical therapy and has yet to fully return to his duties as council member.

© The Washington Post Company

In race for D.C. mayor, Bowser has yet to capture the imaginations of black women

In race for D.C. mayor, Bowser has yet to capture the imaginations of black women

By Petula Dvorak, Washington Post, Published: March 17

“Muriel Barry?” someone asked.

“No, Muriel BOWSER,” I said.

“Who is he?” others wondered.

Sometimes I got this: “Uh-ugh. No. Thank. You. She’s all about the Gold Coast. Uptown.”

As early voting in the April 1 mayoral primary gets underway this week, D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) should be on a roll. She has emerged in the polls as the top council challenger to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who is fighting for reelection amid devastating allegations by federal prosecutors that he knew about an illegal “shadow” campaign four years ago. And she’s been endorsed (twice) by The Washington Post, further boosting her standing in a crowded field of candidates.

But Bowser has yet to generate much excitement among a key group of D.C. voters: African American women.

In a Washington Post January poll of registered voters, 33 percent of African American women said they supported Gray. Less than half that number — 15 percent — said they were voting for Bowser, while an additional 14 percent said they supported Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large). Those numbers have almost certainly shifted dramatically in the past week, despite Gray’s repeated denials that he did anything wrong.

But as I traveled across the city, speaking to African American women of all ages, occupations and education levels, I found attitudes that still reflected those polling numbers.

Of course, no one should expect black women to flock to Muriel Bowser simply because she’s a black woman. But how is it possible that the daughter of one of D.C.’s first ANC commissioners, a successful, ambitious African American woman born and raised on D.C.’s old-school, door-to-door politics and minted in a progressive, prosperous new city isn’t doing better among women like her?

“I have been somewhat surprised myself,” said Anita Sheldon, president of DC Women in Politics, an advocacy group to promote female candidates. “We are a diverse group of women, and she seems to be polling higher among white and Hispanic women than she is among African American women.”

Two names kept coming up as I talked to African American women about Bowser, and neither of them belonged to her. The first was former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who handpicked Bowser as his successor in Ward 4 and who remains deeply unpopular in many African American neighborhoods, especially east of the Anacostia River.

“She thinks that by putting yellow on her Fenty green sign that makes her different? Nope. She’s Fenty in a dress,” declared one woman at a midweek mayoral forum near U Street.

The other name that bedevils Bowser?

“Let me just say this: Sharon Pratt Kelly. Okay?” said another woman. “We don’t need that again.”

The District’s glass-ceiling-shattering mayor, who ran the city from 1991 to 1995, was widely regarded as a disaster.

Bowser says that, no doubt, women are tough critics.

“I think that women expect a perfect candidate” and “they have the same expectation of themselves,” she said.

But they don’t have that perfect-candidate expectation of men.

Lord knows we’ve had our share of imperfect men in office.

Although Bowser and Kelly have little in common besides XX chromosomes, Kelly’s name gets invoked at political forums, outside churches and in online comments of nearly every story about Bowser’s campaign.

Beyond mayoral ghosts, there is something about Bowser that rubbed some women I talked to the wrong way.

“She doesn’t represent me,” said a home health aide balancing the care of two children and a full-time job. “She’s never been married. Doesn’t have kids. She doesn’t know what life is like for everyday people like us.”

“Passion! I’m not seeing passion and fire in her. I’m just not feeling her,” said another woman who prefers restaurateur Andy Shallal.

“I like her, I like what she’s doing, but she needs to do more, to be stronger, to speak up,” said Brittney Johnson, 27, a guard at one of the Smithsonian museums.

Not every woman could articulate her dissatisfaction with Bowser. “She’s not warm, but it’s not like she’s cold,” said one woman on a sidewalk outside a Baptist church in Southeast Washington on Sunday morning. “She’s just not, I don’t know . . . ”

Outside another church in Ward 7, where several women were talking to me after services, a man in a dapper striped suit was laughing as we talked. “Y’all women just turn on each other,” he said. “Don’t stick together.”

Maybe. In workplaces and at kitchen tables, women are sometimes harder on other women than they are on men. Or maybe women are considering a lot more than whether a candidate looks like them. Black? Female? How about just good for the city? Perhaps women are demonstrating a more thoughtful evaluation of the candidates on their own merits, rather than their biological resumes.

During a forum moderated by The Post’s Marc Fisher on Sunday night, Bowser reflected on the lessons she learned watching Fenty.

Everyone around Fenty was telling him where his weaknesses were, and he just didn’t listen, he just charged ahead believing he knew best. She hoped that she would learn from that when someone she trusts tells her, “Muriel, stop. Muriel, listen. Muriel, go there.”

Great advice, Muriel. Hear your own words: Stop. Listen. Go out there.

Gray’s voter base, east of the river, grows shakier with each new campaign allegation

Gray’s voter base, east of the river, grows shakier with each new campaign allegation

By Paul Schwartzman, Published: March 13

His quest for reelection in peril, Vincent C. Gray traveled this week to the part of Washington that propelled his political rise, a neighborhood east of the Anacostia River, where he boasted of his accomplishments and declared himself a man of integrity.

Yet outside the elementary school auditorium where the mayor spoke, in one of the predominantly African American neighborhoods he has counted on in past elections, voters said they were not so sure.

At the core of their uncertainty, they said, are questions about the mayor’s honesty, percolating anew with fresh allegations that Gray himself had sought more than $400,000 in illegal campaign contributions in 2010 — accusations that he denies.

“It has just got me puzzled,” said George Hill, 58, a mechanic, standing outside his modest brick home in Ward 7’s Lincoln Heights. He voted for Gray in 2010 but now is undecided. “I don’t want to judge him, but I don’t know the truth.”

Around the corner, Dorothy Poston, 78, tending her front yard, acknowledged that she may not be able to vote for the mayor again. “What the heck happened?” she asked. “Are they going to charge him? I don’t know what to do.”

Four years ago, a massive voter turnout in wards 7 and 8 drove Gray’s victory over incumbent Adrian M. Fenty. Now, less than three weeks before the April 1 Democratic primary, a broad spectrum of civic leaders and political activists on the city’s eastern edge are expressing doubt that Gray’s support base will show up with nearly the same force.

Since January, the mayor has led seven Democratic challengers in polling and has won endorsements from the Chamber of Commerce and an assortment of labor unions and interest groups.

But Gray needs an outpouring of votes from his base, if only to offset what he’s not expected to get in mostly white neighborhoods across town, where he did poorly in 2010. “The base is not solid,” said Stan Jackson, who was Gray’s 2010 campaign coordinator in Ward 8 but who himself is now undecided. “The base is ambivalent, and it’s not energized.”

Isaac Fulwood Jr., the District’s former police chief who lives in Ward 7, said voters he has talked to in Gray’s geographic base are torn between admiring the mayor’s accomplishments and being concerned about the scandal. “It’s a very uncomfortable election,” Fulwood said. “I’m looking at all the things he has done well, but he has this thing lingering out there, and there’s the bigger question: Did we create a culture of corruption in the D.C. government?”

Asked how the mayor is faring in wards 7 and 8, Chuck Thies, Gray’s campaign manager, said, “Fantastically,” an assessment he based on “the enthusiasm of everyone we meet, our internal metrics and history.”

Thies also said that Gray’s political strength comes from neighborhoods across the city, such as those in Ward 5, where he received nearly 75 percent of the vote in 2010. “The misconception that the mayor is solely an east-of-the-river candidate is exactly that: a misconception,” he said.

But Gray performed far better among African Americans than whites four years ago, and he is sure to lose his mayoralty without his base.

As a result, the mayor is counting on such supporters as Barbara Morgan, a prominent Ward 7 civic leader who said she’s “more enthusiastic” about Gray now than she was in 2010 because of his focus on education and his advocacy for redevelopment projects at Skyland Shopping Center and St. Elizabeths Hospital.

“All these other people are out here trying to get his job, but what have they done?” asked Morgan, former president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations. “At least Vince has a record to run on.”

The mayor’s purported role in the 2010 campaign is not disqualifying for all of his supporters, many of whom question why prosecutors have allowed the investigation to persist for so long.

With the primary looming, they also expressed suspicion about the timing of businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson’s guilty plea on Monday, in which he said the mayor knew of a scheme to illegally finance the 2010 campaign.

“It’s a whole lot of hearsay, and right now I believe in him,” Darryl Sutterwhite, 60, a social worker, said as he got out of his car at a Benning Road shopping center. “If he did something, prosecute him. Otherwise, I’m supporting him.” At the same time, Sutterwhite acknowledged a growing discomfort absorbing the flow of information that contradicts Gray’s claim of innocence.

His wife, he pointed out, is no longer backing the mayor.

Different dynamics

In 2010, as Gray began his mayoral campaign, voters in wards 7 and 8 had repudiated Fenty, viewing him as more concerned with creating bicycle lanes and dog parks in white communities than combating the double-digit unemployment rate in their neighborhoods.

Fueled by anger, voters east of the Anacostia drifted to Gray, a longtime Ward 7 resident who represented the ward on the D.C. Council before rising to chairman and running for mayor.

Four years ago, voters in wards 7 and 8 went to the polls in greater numbers than in previous Democratic primaries, and more than 80 percent supported Gray. In total, he received more than a third of his 72,000 votes from those wards. “I was glad to see him win — a whole lot of us were,” said Joy Scott, a pastor and the former president of the Ward 8 Democrats. “ ‘East of the River’ loved him.”

The dynamics of the 2014 race are far different. Instead of challenging an unpopular mayor, Gray himself is the incumbent, fending off Democratic challengers who include council members Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), Vincent B. Orange (At Large), Jack Evans (Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (Ward 6). A fifth council member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), has said he is running in the general election.

For three years, Gray has been at the center of a political scandal, resulting in five of his associates from the 2010 campaign pleading guilty to felonies.

In the latest revelation, Thompson admitted on Monday to illegally funneling more than $2 million to an array of campaigns, including the mayor’s. Gray, Thompson told prosecutors, asked him to fund the illicit campaign. The mayor has called Thompson a liar.

Even before Thompson’s plea, Gray’s diminished popularity in wards 7 and 8 was evident. A Washington Post poll in January suggested that a third of those surveyed in the two wards said they would support him — far more than his opponents but well short of a majority.

The frustration toward Gray spilled into public view at a forum hosted by the Ward 8 Democrats in January, during which hecklers shouted at him. The mayor lost an ensuing straw poll to Bowser by 10 percentage points.

The list of prominent supporters east of the Anacostia who have abandoned Gray includes Paul Savage, a Ward 7 civic leader who has questioned the mayor’s “moral authority” to govern.

Bernadette Tolson, a coordinator of his Ward 8 campaign in 2010, said she gave up on Gray because he did not find jobs in the administration for qualified campaign workers.

“A lot of people don’t trust him anymore,” said Tolson, who is now backing Orange. “If you don’t trust a person, how are you going to support them?”

Feeling unsettled

On Wednesday, two days after Thompson’s plea hearing, the mayor was back in Ward 7, presiding over the groundbreaking for the redevelopment of Skyland, a project that for decades residents have been yearning for.

As the developers and his own deputies praised Gray for his leadership, Phyllis Lee, 68, a retired teacher, walked into the Safeway across the street. A Gray supporter in 2010, she said she has appreciated his focus on education. The Skyland plan is another plus.

But Lee also said that she can’t escape thoughts of the investigation. Even if the mayor is innocent, she said, what about his associates who committed crimes? “As a kid, I was taught that you’re judged by the company you keep,” she said. “Right now, I am unsettled. I am unsure.”

The investigation is only part of what has driven discontent toward Gray within his base. There have been complaints about the pace of economic development in such neighborhoods as Marshall Heights and Fairlawn.

A couple of miles away from Skyland, at the Lincoln Heights public-housing complex, Patricia Malloy, a neighborhood leader, recalled that no one questioned her choice of Gray four years ago.

“Their main concern was, ‘Fenty has to go,’ ” Malloy said. “In 2014, they’re asking, ‘Why are you voting for the mayor?’ ”

She attributed their opposition to Gray to the city’s failure to start a long-promised redevelopment of their community. The mayor is one man, she tells them. Change takes time. “All I know,” she said, “is that when I call him, he calls back.”

Emily Washington, 70, a Ward 7 activist, voted for Gray in 2010 and plans to support him again. “I don’t see anyone out there who has demonstrated they can run the city,” she said.

Yet, she said, in her neighborhood, “a lot of people tell me they’re not voting for him,” ascribing their reasons to a perception that the city is becoming an enclave for the wealthy and that “they don’t think he has done anything for their community.”

From her own encounters, she said, the frustration has little to do with the investigation. In fact, even among people unhappy with Gray, she said, she has detected anger that the investigation seems to go on and on.

“People feel it’s nit-picking,” she said. “It’s only an issue if there’s irrefutable evidence that Mr. Gray orchestrated and carried out the shadow campaign. If they can’t prove it, they need to back off.”

Whatever the case, said Scott, the probe is on voters’ minds.

“You have people saying, ‘You vote him back in, and then something happens and he has to come out’ — they’re weighing that,” she said.

The pastor recounted her advice: “If you feel he has done a good job, do what you think is right. And pray.”

More D.C. campaigns allegedly received secret funding from Thompson

More D.C. campaigns allegedly received secret funding from Thompson

By Ann E. Marimow, Mike DeBonis and Nikita Stewart, Published: August 11, 2013

Years before prosecutors say he illegally financed an election effort for Mayor Vincent C. Gray, a local businessman allegedly secretly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of at least seven other candidates for mayor and the D.C. Council, according to several people familiar with the payments.

Jeffrey E. Thompson, who is under federal investigation for allegedly financing a $653,000 secret campaign for Gray in 2010, allegedly made similar expenditures dating back to at least 2006, according to two people with direct knowledge of the payments who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Thompson boosted the mayoral campaign of Linda W. Cropp, a Democrat, seven years ago with more than $100,000 in alleged illegal spending, the people said. He allegedly spent smaller amounts on behalf of former council member Michael A. Brown and the insurgent council candidacies of Patrick D. Mara, a Republican, and Mark H. Long, an independent, in 2008. And he allegedly spent still more in 2010 for council hopefuls Jeff Smith and Kelvin Robinson, both Democrats, and in 2011 for council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large).

Though the sums of money were significantly smaller than the amount that went into what has become known as the “shadow campaign” for Gray in 2010, such expenditures could reveal a pattern in which Thompson appears to have wielded vast influence for years over the District’s political process.

Cropp and Mara denied any knowledge of the payments, as Gray has done regarding the alleged secret effort to help him in 2010. The other candidates either couldn’t be reached or, through attorneys, declined to comment.

That keeps the focus of a
21 / 2-year investigation into political corruption in the District, for now, on Thompson.

Prosecutors appear to be methodically building a case against Thompson, who was for years one of the District’s largest contractors and who, court records suggest, is the subject of a grand jury investigation.

An individual matching Thompson’s description has been mentioned on numerous occasions in court documents as allegedly funding the “shadow campaign” for Gray (D) as well as arranging illegal “straw” donations made with his own money but disclosed as coming from employees and other associates.

While declining to comment on any particular allegations of wrongdoing, Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, issued a statement Friday that said: “It is clear from our office’s public corruption prosecutions over the past several years that we will not excuse criminal activity as business as usual. We plan to continue vigorously investigating and prosecuting crimes that deprive D.C. voters of the fair and transparent elections that they deserve.”

Most recently, Thompson secretly paid for T-shirts, campaign signs and field workers in 2011 to help return Orange to office, the individuals asserted. In that campaign, Orange relied on some of the same players implicated in the parallel campaign for Gray the prior year.

One of those people, veteran field organizer Vernon E. Hawkins, recently has been in talks with federal prosecutors about entering a possible plea agreement in connection with his work on the Gray shadow campaign, according to several people familiar with the negotiations who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation continues.

The deal, which will not be final until a judge accepts it, is expected to be made public as soon as this week, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation. If charges are filed, Hawkins would become the latest in a series of Thompson associates to be implicated in the scandal.

William E. Lawler III, Hawkins’s attorney, declined to comment on the allegations that his client was involved in unreported expenditures for other campaigns. He also declined to comment on whether Hawkins has signed a plea agreement with federal prosecutors or whether there are any plans to do so.

Thompson’s alleged activities were often, but not always, coordinated with his longtime associate Jeanne Clarke Harris, a public relations consultant who admitted in federal court last year to participating in the shadow campaign for Gray by funneling Thompson’s money through companies she owned.

Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., an attorney for Thompson, could not be reached and generally does not comment on his cases. Harris attorney Mark H. Tuohey III did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

City campaign finance laws impose limits on donations and spending and require political committees to report their activities even if they are not officially coordinated with a campaign.

In recent months, prosecutors have obtained guilty pleas from two other Thompson associates who admitted being a part of what U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. called an “assembly line” for donations run out of Thompson’s firm.

Brown, the former council member who had been a Democrat but ran as an independent in 2008 and 2012, also admitted to secretly accepting money from Thompson. He told prosecutors that Thompson provided him with a $20,000 payment, sending it through a company Harris owned. Brown then reported it as a donation of his own money to his 2008 campaign.

Little has been publicly aired, however, about alleged illegal spending in support of other candidates Thompson favored in the years before the 2010 mayor’s race and in the 2011 at-large council contest.

The money, according to the people familiar with Thompson’s spending, allegedly went to support a variety of activities, from campaign literature and canvasser stipends to election-day food and transportation for voters and poll workers.

None of the candidates received support to the extent that Gray did, the individuals with knowledge of the expenditures said, and the candidates Thompson backed did not always win. But the alleged undisclosed assistance appears to have allowed the city businessman to skirt campaign finance limits and not reveal to incumbents that he was backing their long-shot challengers.

Federal investigators are aware of the alleged unreported spending on behalf of some of the other candidates and have reviewed receipts and other records that document some of the payments, according to two people close to the investigation. The three-year statute of limitations to file misdemeanor campaign finance charges has expired in most cases.

Cropp, the former council chairman who lost to former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in the 2006 mayoral primary, said she had no knowledge of any illicit spending made by Thompson for her campaign. “We had a campaign that was above board,” she said Wednesday.

She called Thompson a “good fundraiser” for her campaign but said she was unaware of any other activities he had undertaken.

“In that campaign, I was busy,” she said. “I had never been busier. All I wanted to do was my job as chairman, and I campaigned very hard.”

Campaign finance records show that Cropp’s 2006 campaign made a series of publicly reported payments to one of Harris’s firms, Details International, totaling more than $68,000 for a wide range of services listed as advertising, campaign materials and rentals.

Off the books, the sources asserted, Thompson spent more than $100,000, covering additional costs for campaign materials and transportation for canvassers and voters.

Mara, who won the 2008 Republican primary but lost to Brown in the general election, said he was not aware of any payments Thompson made on behalf of his primary campaign.

Former council hopefuls Robinson and Long, who went on to serve as Gray’s driver during the 2010 mayoral race, did not return messages seeking comment. Smith could not be reached. Brian M. Heberlig, an attorney who represented Brown in his June guilty plea to a federal bribery charge, declined to comment because of his client’s ongoing cooperation with the government’s investigation.

Thompson, according to two people with knowledge of the arrangement, backed Orange during his 2010 run for council chairman. But the more serious effort came in 2011, the individuals said, when Orange won a special election to fill the at-large seat vacated by Kwame R. Brown (D), who had defeated Orange in the chairman’s race.

Some of the same figures known to have had roles in the Gray shadow campaign helped Orange that year, according to several individuals with direct knowledge of both campaigns.

According to interviews with several Orange campaign workers, Hawkins was a regular attendee at high-level campaign meetings, helping to organize field outreach and participating in strategy discussions. Harris, too, was seen on several occasions at the campaign’s Georgia Avenue office, several workers said. At least three other Orange 2011 staffers had also worked on the Gray shadow effort, those workers said.

Andi Pringle, a political consultant who worked for the 2011 Orange campaign, confirmed that Hawkins advised the Orange campaign and said that she saw Harris at the campaign office before the election.

Hawkins, who was employed at the time as an administrator for Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, does not appear on campaign finance reports Orange filed for the 2011 campaign. Workers said Hawkins was reticent to be formally associated with the campaign, asking not to be included on mass e-mails and, in at least one instance, telling workers in a meeting they were to refer to him only as “Eugene.”

At least two Orange workers have been interviewed by federal authorities in recent months. One reported being shown invoices and receipts for political activities that were not listed in the campaign’s public financial disclosures.

Orange and his campaign aides have not been named in court documents. Orange did not respond to several phone messages and e-mails seeking comment. Joseph F. Johnson Jr., the campaign’s chairman, declined to comment.

In June, Orange acknowledged he had met with federal prosecutors about his past campaigns. “Certainly the U.S. attorney is doing their due diligence,” he said at the time.

Orange previously disclosed that, during the 2011 campaign, he accepted $26,000 in contributions, largely through money orders, that were later connected to Thompson or Harris. During his reelection campaign last year, Orange said he considered those donations — some of which featured similar handwriting and sequential serial numbers — “suspicious and questionable” upon closer examination, but he later claimed vindication after a city audit.