- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics yesterday fined Mayor Anthony A. Williams' re-election campaign $277,700 for submitting more than 5,400 forged signatures on his nominating petitions.
"We will pay the fine," Mr. Williams said. "It is excessive, but we will comply with the elections board in an effort to put this behind us and move forward."
The fine, which could have totaled more than $1 million, is the first levied by the elections board and the largest ever issued for campaign misconduct in the District under home rule.
The elections board, which has denied Mr. Williams access to the Sept. 10 Democratic primary ballot, will suspend $27,700 of the fine if the mayor commits to training his staffers in election laws and procedures. Mr. Williams said he will comply with the provision, which would make the fine $250,000.
"The fine would have been greater had there been evidence of the mayor's involvement or that of his senior campaign officials in forging petitions," said elections board Chairman Benjamin F. Wilson.
Community activist Dorothy Brizill, who had challenged the authenticity of the mayor's petition signatures, accepted the board's ruling.
"He has paid a price already. He is off the ballot and has suffered public humiliation," Mrs. Brizill said of Mr. Williams. "A fine of a quarter-million dollars by an elections board is unheard of in this city and probably in the nation."
The mayor, who is running as a write-in candidate for the Democratic mayoral nomination, will pay the fine from the more than $980,000 in his campaign war chest, said Williams campaign spokeswoman Ann Walker Marchant.
She said Mr. Williams will continue to focus on the issues and "what is important to the voters in the District."
Even after paying the fine, the Williams campaign will have significantly more campaign funds than any of the other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.
Mr. Wilson said the board determined the fine based on the lack of "institutional controls" the mayor's campaign had for its petition circulators, who the board concluded submitted 5,465 forged signatures.
"This is gross neglect by a candidate and although [Mr. Williams] committed no direct illegal actions, he is ultimately responsible," Mr. Wilson said.
Mr. Wilson said there was no evidence the mayor's campaign intentionally submitted forged signatures, but said there is no defense for unintentionally submitting forgeries.
In a hearing yesterday, the three-member elections board sympathized with Mr. Williams' election troubles, calling them "mitigating circumstances." The board has referred five of the mayor's campaign workers for criminal prosecution by the Corporation Counsel and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"We don't agree with the 'mitigating circumstances,'" said Betsy Werronen, chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee. "Given the staggering 5,500 violations perpetrated by the Williams campaign, the board should have levied the maximum fine."
Meanwhile, Mrs. Brizill said she would submit to the board a complaint accusing the mayor's campaign of violating campaign-finance rules on expenditures filing.
She said the Williams campaign failed to detail payments to petition circulators Scott Bishop Jr. and his wife, Crystal, when the mayor filed his expenditures on Saturday.
Mrs. Brizill said the Williams campaign filings show only the name of family patriarch Scott Bishop Sr. as having received funds for circulating petitions.
The Bishops, who invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during the elections board's hearings on the signatures' authenticity, are suspected of being responsible for more than 70 percent of the forgeries on the nominating petitions.
The Bishops, along with petition circulators Ann Lewis and Robert Yeldell, were referred for criminal prosecution.
Mr. Williams lost a spot on the Democratic primary ballot on July 26, when the board ruled that more than 7,000 petition signatures submitted by his campaign were "obvious" forgeries or otherwise invalid.
Mr. Williams appealed the decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which upheld the board's ruling on Aug. 7.
Before the Williams fine, the largest D.C. campaign fine was $10,000 levied against the campaign of former D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis. That fine was issued by the Office of Campaign Finance in 1984 for a conflict of interest in her accepting contributions from Nations Bank, a business Mrs. Jarvis oversaw as economic development committee chairman.

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