- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2011

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown was a no-show Monday at a hearing seeking answers from his 2008 re-election campaign as to why it failed to report numerous transactions and maintain proper records.

Instead, campaign treasurer Dawn Cromer and attorney Frederick D. Cooke Jr. met with the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) for 90 minutes behind closed doors at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center on U Street Northwest.

“This is part of the investigative process,” OCF spokesman Wesley Williams said, noting additional hearings will be scheduled. “Investigations are closed until theyre complete.”

Ms. Cromer was the only person cited in a hearing notice, which accuses the Committee to Re-Elect Kwame Brown of, among other things, failing to initially report 210 contributions totaling more than $102,700 and 53 expenditures totaling more than $169,400.

The committee for Mr. Brown’s re-election to an at-large council seat faces civil penalties of $30 per day for failure to designate a campaign depository and $50 a day for failure to disclose information on reports and statements.

Once the investigation is complete, the hearing officer will make a recommendation to OCF Director Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery, Mr. Williams said. If the director imposes sanctions, Mr. Browns committee can appeal the decision to the OCF board.

Mr. Williams also said the OCF board can refer a case to the U.S. attorney if there is evidence of intentional fraud that amounts to criminal activity. At this time, it is unclear whether that could be the case for Mr. Brown’s committee.

Mr. Brown, who was elected chairman of the council in November, had the option of attending Monday’s hearing and declined. His chief of staff said Mr. Brown will have no comment until the investigation is complete.

His lack of comment mirrored that of Mr. Cooke, who would not even disclose whether he represented Mr. Brown, Ms. Cromer or the campaign committee.

“I have no comment,” he told reporters in the lobby. “Were leaving, because we have to go.”

Mr. Brown’s council staff later said that Mr. Cooke was representing the committee.

Mr. Browns father, Marshall Brown, also did make an appearance Monday but his name was not on the hearing notice. He left after about five minutes and had to wait in the lobby for Ms. Cromer and Mr. Cooke.

When a reporter asked why the elder Mr. Brown showed up, Mr. Cooke interjected, “Dont answer, please.”

The secretive air around Mondays meeting shed little light on proceedings in the wake of a scathing audit released earlier this month that found Mr. Browns campaign reports “not in substantial compliance” with D.C. campaign finance law.

The six-month OCF probe delved deeply into the campaigns record-keeping and expenditures, including payments to consultants such as Mr. Browns brother, Che Brown, who has worked on all of Kwame Browns election campaigns, and Che Browns business, Partners in Learning, a motivational and business-coaching firm.

The audit revealed that the committee spent $379,654 — or 46 percent of its total expenditures from August 2007 through March 2008 — on a company called Banner Consulting, which was retained to manage field operations for the campaign. Invoices provided by the committee, though, did not match services rendered by Banner. Of the money paid by the committee to Banner, $239,663 was then paid or transferred from Banner to Che Browns firm, which had reached a subcontracting agreement with Banner.

Partners in Learning netted more than $25,800 under the arrangement, according to a profit-and-loss statement submitted by the company.

Mr. Brown has said that while corrections had to be made to his OCF reports, “It is important to note that all funds received from our supporters were deposited into the committee bank account and used only for purposes of our campaign.”

He said the audit does show that professionals, instead of volunteers, should do his campaign reports in the future.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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