- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2012

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton had strong words for Mayor Vincent C. Gray last week after a longtime political operative pleaded guilty to raising illegal campaign cash to help Mr. Gray defeat Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in 2010.

But even as the veteran lawmaker called the latest damaging revelations about the Gray campaign “deeply disturbing, Mrs. Norton’s own campaign filings show that she, too, has benefited from the same fundraiser that has put Mr. Gray’s campaign under such sharp scrutiny in recent months.

On three separate fundraising days leading up to elections in 2006, 2008 and 2010, Mrs. Norton’s campaign received nearly $50,000 from D.C. contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson, his associates and employees, records show.

Federal agents looking into campaign finance wrongdoing in the District raided Mr. Thompson’s offices and home earlier this year, prompting him to leave the accounting firm and health plan he owned that had won hundreds of millions of dollars in city contracts over the years.

The federal probe has Mr. Gray fending off calls for his resignation from three D.C. Council members after political operative Eugenia Harris pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in federal court in Washington last week. At a court appearance, she detailed her role in a straw-donor scheme to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in unreported campaign money to fund a so-called “shadow campaign” to help Mr. Gray unseat Mr. Fenty in 2010. Mr. Gray has not been charged with any wrongdoing. While Mr. Thompson has not been charged or named in court papers, elected officials in Washington have received subpoenas asking for information about contributions linked to him.

After Harris’ guilty plea, Mrs. Norton quickly released a statement on what she called the “Gray campaign investigation.”

“Vincent Gray is a friend of long standing who I have always known to have high professional and ethical standards,” she said. “However, the criminal conduct by his campaign aides revealed in court is deeply disturbing and goes to the heart of the democratic process. Mayor Gray has an obligation to clear this matter up quickly.”

But while Mr. Gray’s campaign clearly figures prominently in the federal probe, it’s not the only campaign federal prosecutors are reviewing. At a news conference last week, the District’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., said the “conspiracy” illegally directed money to federal campaigns, too.

“Since 2001, this scheme has violated federal and local election law by using straw donors, many of them employees, friends and family members of the conspirators, to make high dollar campaign contributions that would then be reimbursed with personal and corporate money from the conspiracy,” Mr. Machen said.

Mr. Machen also said the scheme illegally directed tens of thousands of dollars “to candidates for federal and D.C. offices.”

Harris’ name turns up in numerous federal and local campaign finance reports over the years, spanning the campaigns of mayoral and congressional campaigns and even President Obama’s 2008 presidential bid.

D.C. Council members also have accepted money from Harris and her company, including two elected officials calling for Mr. Gray’s resignation: David A. Catania, at large independent, and Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat.

A spokesman for Mrs. Norton did not respond to messages about the donations she has received from Mr. Thompson and his associates over the years.

But Federal Election Commission records show the support was considerable. Mr. Thompson and Harris separately gave Mrs. Norton donations on the same day on three occasions, the latest in the fall of 2010.

With less than a week before an election that Mrs. Norton won in a landslide — 88.9 percent to 6 percent — five executives of the accounting firm Mr. Thompson founded also gave donations to Mrs. Norton on Oct. 27, 2010, along with several of the executives’ family members. Donations linked to Mr. Thompson to Mrs. Norton’s campaign that day totaled nearly $20,000.

One of the donors who gave to Mrs. Norton that day was Stanley Straughter of Philadelphia. Mr. Straughter identified himself as a consultant to Mr. Thompson’s accounting firm in campaign filings. He also has given to numerous other D.C. local campaigns, with donations often coming on the same day, in the same amount and to the same politicians as contributions from Mr. Thompson or his associates. A woman who answered a phone number under Mr. Straughter’s name Monday said he was not available.

Both Ms. Harris and Mr. Thompson gave to Mrs. Norton’s campaign on Nov. 1, 2008, a day in which she raised more than $12,000 overall from donors with ties to Mr. Thompson’s businesses.

On one day two years earlier in 2006, Mrs. Norton’s campaign raised more than $16,000 from donors tied to Mr. Thompson, most of whom identify themselves as working at Mr. Thompson’s health plan or accounting firm.

Two donors that day were Myrtle Gomez, who has served on the board of directors of Mr. Thompson’s health plan, and Christopher Lawson, whose insurance business in Bowie has listed Mr. Thompson’s accounting firm and health plan as clients.

An attorney for Ms. Gomez told The Washington Times earlier this year that her contributions were legal. In a recent interview, Mr. Lawson said his donations also were legal.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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