In sharp contrast with her own Democratic Party’s leadership, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton isn’t planning with parting with her campaign cash tied to D.C. contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson, a central figure in the fundraising scandal now embroiling D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray.
Mrs. Norton also has accepted three large donations from Eugenia Harris, a political operative who pleaded guilty in federal court to helping orchestrate a massive straw donor scheme to fund a “shadow campaign” to help Mr. Gray defeat former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in 2010.
While President Obama, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine all moved in recent days to get rid of donations they received from Mr. Thompson and his associates, Mrs. Norton said Thursday she doesn’t see any reason why should should let go of the money.
“I don’t have any reason to believe that any of the contributions were illegal,” she told WPFW, a radio station.
The Washington Times reported earlier this week that Mrs. Norton had raised about $50,000 in just three days leading up to her successful 2006, 2008 and 2010 re-elections from Mr. Thompson, his employees and associates and their family members. The Times also made phone and email inquiries to Mrs. Norton’s office with questions about the contributions, but a spokesman never responded.
However, the Norton campaign sent an email at 11:49 p.m. Thursday standing by her comments earlier in the day.
“Jeff Thompson has not contributed to the Congresswoman’s Campaign during this campaign cycle, the statement read.
“Her campaign contributions are always checked first by her campaign and then by her accountants to assure that they meet federal law and regulations. All her contributions have met this standard. More recently we again verified the legality of all Norton contributions. Checks connected to Mr. Thompson came during a fundraising reception he sponsored for the Congresswoman. Among those who attended and contributed were Mr. Thompson’s associates and others he invited.”
It was not clear from the statement how the campaign independently verified that contributions from Harris and others tied to Mr. Thompson were not later reimbursed, which is a violation of campaign law. Nor is it clear whether in determining the legality of the contributions if the campaign interviewed Mr. Thompson and Harris.
Mr. Gray has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Neither has Mr. Thompson, though prosecutors have sent subpoenas to several D.C. elected officials specifically seeking details about his fundraising activities.
In her remarks Thursday, Mrs. Norton said Mr. Thompson had never bundled money for her. She also said she didn’t know why Mr. Obama was returning his funds from Mr. Thompson, but she speculated it might have been because he received the funds last year. Mr. Thompson gave $10,000 that was split between the Obama campaign and Democratic Party, but officials said the money is being returned.
The bulk of the Thompson-tied money to Mr. O’Malley, head of the powerful Democratic Governor’s Association, came on one day in September 2010. Mr. O'Malley’s spokesman said that $38,000 tied to Mr. Thompson would be donated to a charity.
Weeks after Mr. O'Malley’s campaign received help from Mr. Thompon’s fundraising network in 2010, Mrs. Norton also received donations from Mr. Thompson and Ms. Harris, as well as associates of Mr. Thompson and family members. Those donations, all given on Oct. 27, 2010, totaled nearly $20,000.
Despite the tens of thousand of dollars her campaign has received from Mr. Thompson and his associates, Mrs. Norton has been quick to call on Mr. Gray explain himself as he finds himself fending off calls for his resignation from several D.C. council members.
“Vincent Gray is a friend of long standing who I have always known to have high professional and ethical standards,” she said in a statement last week after Harris‘ guilty plea. “However, the criminal conduct by his campaign aides revealed in court is deeply disturbing and goes to the heart of the democratic process. Mayor Gray has an obligation to clear this matter up quickly.”
After Harris‘ guilty plea, the District’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., didn’t mention Mr. Thompson by name but told reporters that the “conspiracy” illegally directed money not only to local contests but to federal campaigns, too.
“Since 2001, this scheme has violated federal and local election law by using straw donors, many of them employees, friends and family members of the conspirators, to make high dollar campaign contributions that would then be reimbursed with personal and corporate money from the conspiracy,” he said.
Under federal law, campaigns can get rid of potentially tainted donations easily by donating the money to charity, transferring it to the U.S. Treasury or refunding the contributions.