- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

On Thursday, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics fined the Anthony Williams re-election campaign $277,700 for submitting forged signatures on its nominating petitions. The board will suspend $27,700 of that fine if Mayor Willliams commits to training in election laws and procedures for his campaign staff. Considering the scope of the problem more than half of the 10,000 signatures on the Williams petitions were forged and the fact that the campaign could have been fined $1 million the board let the campaign off easy. Nonetheless, the $277,700 fine was the largest since the District won home rule in the 1970s.

The board already turned over to D.C. and federal prosecutors its evidence of criminal wrongdoing by several campaign workers, but said there was no evidence against the mayor or senior campaign staff. Calling the forgeries "gross neglect," Board Chairman Benjamin Wilson said, as the mayor has, that the candidate "is ultimately responsible." Mr. Wilson also said a lack of internal controls led to the forgeries. Those words hit hard on the ears of a former chief financial officer, such as Mr. Williams.

The mayor said his campaign will pay the fine, but he also called the fine "excessive." Considering the scope of the problem, the mayor seriously underestimated his ethical and managerial lapse. This was a hard lesson for the Williams campaign, which sued the board after the board ruled Mr. Williams' name could not appear on the Democratic primary ballot. Mr. Williams lost that fight. His supporters and detractors will likely have that on their minds when they vote on Sept. 10.

Still, although the board acted on specific complaints against the Williams campaign alone, it is hoped that other current and future campaigns get the message: This elections board will indeed sweat the details.

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