D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Tuesday responded to charges that his 2010 campaign team accepted cash donations over the $25 legal limit by converting them to money orders, attributing the possible slip-ups to aides during his “truncated” campaign.
The improprieties suggested in a report in The Washington Post - which quoted befuddled donors who said they never passed along money orders to the campaign - are yet another embarrassment for the mayor’s team, which faces a federal probe and D.C. Council investigation over perceived cronyism in its hiring practices and charges of payments to a mayoral candidate to attack incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
“I regret that unresolved issues from the campaign continue to surface,” Mr. Gray said in a statement released Tuesday morning.
Mr. Gray said the recent charges and an investigation by the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) will not distract his administration from moving forward with daily business and his “One City” agenda, even as it enters the eighth month of speculation about campaign improprieties during last year’s campaign.
OCF spokesman Wesley Williams said his office began its audit of Mr. Gray’s committee in April “and would encompass what the Washington Post alleges in today’s article, if it hasn’t already done so.”
While Mr. Gray’s statement stressed his own accountability, it attributed any errors to a hastily assembled campaign.
“Last year, we mounted a grass-roots mayoral campaign and won within a brief six-month time frame,” Mr. Gray said. “The schedule was very tight, and I had to trust people to properly carry out the duties for which they were responsible. But obviously, if mistakes were made, the campaign should be held accountable.”
A September 2005 audit of the committee to elect Mr. Gray as Ward 7 council member in 2004 also received cash contributions above the $25 limit. The committee, however, was in “substantial compliance” with campaign finance laws and rectified the issue after a preliminary audit report, according to OCF documents.
Mr. Williams said any contribution over $24.99 must be in the form of a check, money order, cashier’s check or credit card and “adhere to the contribution limits for that particular office. So in the case of mayor, that would be $2,000.”
In its Tuesday report, The Post quoted an anonymous source saying someone within the Gray team “unknowingly broke city campaign finance rules when that person exchanged a handful of money orders for cash contributions.”
The explanation is similar to one offered by Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, whose 2008 re-election committee is under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, after the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics found “apparent violations” in its reporting of some contributions and expenditures.
After an audit discovered the problems, Mr. Brown said it highlighted the need for professionals to crunch the numbers in lieu of campaign volunteers.
Also on Tuesday, the mayor noted he called for the investigation into allegations by former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown, who says he was paid and promised a job by Mr. Gray and his campaign associates to criticize Mr. Fenty on the campaign trail. The U.S. Attorney for the District has called a grand jury to review the claims.
The former candidate was hired to a $110,000-a-year job at the Department of Healthcare Finance, but was fired over his behavior on the job and questions about his past.
Mr. Gray has denied the payments and said Mr. Brown was only promised an interview.
The Post reported that many of the contributions in question came from the taxicab industry, which offered wide support for Mr. Gray. The newspaper was unable to obtain comment from Reuben Charles, who handled fundraising efforts for the campaign.
On March 28, Mr. Charles told the council’s Committee on Government Operations and the Environment that he had conversations with some taxicab companies who supported the mayor.
“The names now fail me, but there were at least three or four conversations where they came to the transition office and they wanted to discuss how this administration would treat their interests differently than the previous one,” Mr. Charles said.
He said he never spoke to members of the administration to act on those conversations.