- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, testifying before the D.C. Council yesterday, defended his administration against charges of improper and illegal fund raising but the mayor's explanations left several council members unconvinced.

The mayor appeared before the council's Committee on Government Matters yesterday against the advice of his attorneys to answer question about his knowledge of and involvement in the improper and possibly illegal use of $1.5 million to fund political receptions and special events.

Every seat in the council chambers was full mostly with Mr. Williams' supporters for the hearing. Each council member was limited to seven minutes of direct questioning of the mayor, and several came away frustrated by what they considered his long-winded or evasive answers.

"I am not totally satisfied [with Mr. Williams answers]," said Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat, who chairs the committee.

Mr. Orange attempted to paint Mr. Wiliams into a corner by reminding him of a comment he made in 1997 when he was the District's chief financial officer.

According to Mr. Orange, Mr. Williams at that time was critical of Mayor Marion Barry for using nonprofit corporations to raise money for special events and projects. Mr. Williams, according to Mr. Orange, had said such activities were illegal and unethical.

The mayor avoided making any comparisons to his own solicitation of funds from private donors with that of Mr. Barry in his answer.

"Since the events of a year ago, we've issued rules and regulations so we can properly and in a good way raise funds and that is a reflection of those 1997 comments," Mr. Williams said.

The council hearing was prompted by the conclusions of a D.C. inspector general's investigation into fund-raising irregularities in the mayor's office. Mr. Williams said he and his staff were unaware of laws on how funds from private donors should be accounted for and accepted.

Or, he said, in some cases laws did not exist to regulate such activity.

Mr. Orange said there have always been laws covering the government's ability to solicit and accept funds from nonprofits and private donors. He said Mr. Williams' comments from five years ago reflect that the mayor was fully aware of the laws and simply ignored them.

Council member David Catania, at-large Republican, said, "The mayor's administration has shown a pattern of soliciting funds for illegal purposes and using public employees for political purposes."

The mayor was censured by the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance for improperly raising funds to promote and funnel campaign contributions through two organizations called the D.C. Agenda and the Campaign for New School Leadership.

The organizations were set up, Mr. Catania said, so that contributors could get a tax deduction after giving money to candidates running for the new hybrid school board.

"On June 19, 2000, the day after this was exposed, your lawyers sent a letter calling for the creation of a new nonprofit: the Tony Williams Community Foundation," Mr. Catania said.

Mr. Williams said he was unaware of any such organization.

Mr. Catania said the Williams foundation would later become For the Kids Foundation, an organization closely scrutinized by the inspector general in his investigation and a front dismissed as little more than a "slush fund" by some Council members.

Council members said they remain skeptical about the involvement of the mayor in the fund-raising scandal.

Council member Jack Evans urged the mayor to tell the truth about what happened, saying "anytime an investigation takes place even if you did something wrong you have to tell the truth."

Mr. Evans was primarily concerned with the inspector general's statement that the mayor's explanation that he was unaware of what took place stretched the bounds of credulity.

Despite the skepticism, council members said there is little action the committee could take against the mayor.

"We don't have the authority to hire a special prosecutor, and hiring a special investigator would be pointless," Mr. Orange said.

Mr. Catania said, "I just want to move on the council has done all it can do. It is up to the U.S. attorney now."

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