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Gray and the 'Shadow Campaign'

On Tuesday after Jeanne Clarke Harris pleaded guilty to running a “Shadow Campaign” for Mayoral candidate Vincent Gray, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said; “ the well-funded, well-equipped “shadow campaign” went to work for Gray but was not reported to campaign-finance authorities or disclosed to the voting public.” He went on to say, “that although the “shadow campaign” appeared legitimate with vans, yard signs and stickers — it’s funding was “sinister”. He further said, “Today’s plea confirms the sad truth that many of us have long feared: that the 2010 mayoral election was corrupted by a massive infusion of cash that was illegally concealed from the voters of the District.”

Now before anyone accuses me of favoring such tactics I believe that anyone not following the law should be punished and that all contributions to political campaigns should be limited to smaller specific amounts; donors identified; and reported. Unfortunately that isn’t the view of the Supreme Court in the ‘Citizens United’ case.

I have spent a lifetime working on campaigns and for candidates and 99.9% of the time it has been as a volunteer. I once got paid for two months as Deputy Campaign Manager for Bella S. Abzug’s losing Mayoral campaign in New York in 1977 but then she stopped paying most staff and we worked as volunteers. I have seen all types of money raised and spent including thousands of dollars not reported and used for what was colloquially called ‘walking around money’ distributed in cash to campaign workers at the polls on Election Day. Rich candidates like Mayor Michael Bloomberg can make million dollar donations from their Foundations to a pastor and then reap the rewards of an endorsement and that is perfectly legal. Families get around the limits to campaign donations when they donate in the name of their minor children and no one looks if that money actually came from the child’s trust fund or the parent’s checking account.

In 2010 there was massive bundling of donations to both the Gray and the Fenty campaigns and no one appears to be looking at whether in the Fenty campaign it was reimbursed to some of the donors from the person who they worked for or a family member. In the case of Jeffrey Thompson and Jeanne Clark they have apparently been doing this on a grand scale since 2001. So what other campaigns have they contributed to in this way?

As stated, I support full reporting of anyone who makes a donation to a political campaign and setting reasonable limits to the amount that any one person can contribute. Contrary to Mitt Romney, I don’t believe corporations are people. But I am also having a real problem with Machen using the word ‘sinister’ and inferring in anyway that the outcome of the last Mayoral election would have been different had this not occurred. Maybe people should take the time and bother to find out who has contributed to pay for their yard sign or t-shirt or umbrella but people don’t. For good or bad people vote for, or often against, the candidate regardless of who is funding the campaign.

Adrian Fenty had $5 million dollars to spend on his campaign. He had the bully pulpit available to him as the incumbent Mayor; he had a record to run on and a record of winning every precinct in the District in his first campaign. So to infer that people would have voted differently in the Eastern part of the District where Vincent Gray racked up huge votes if they knew where the money for the signs or t-shirts or buttons, or the salaries of the people that drove them to the polls came from is nonsense. Vincent Gray won the election by more than ten percentage points. Actually most political junkies would say that Fenty lost it because it was really his to win.

I am for punishing everyone, up to and including the Mayor, if they are guilty of a crime in any of the campaigns and for cleaning up campaigns across the nation. I am for public financing of campaigns if we are truly to make them fairer. I am for ending the so called ‘constituent service funds’ in D.C. which give incumbents huge advantages as they can raise money each year to benefit their constituents without considering it campaigning. I am for ending bundling and for ending the practice whereby D.C. Councilmembers can hold outside jobs. The time has come to pay them a fair salary and make it a fulltime job.

But I am not for calling practices that we all know have been used across the nation for too many years to count ‘sinister’. Compared to the Daley machine in Chicago, Tammany Hall in New York or the political machine in Texas that helped win the state for Kennedy/Johnson in 1960 what happens in District politics is penny-anti stuff. It shouldn’t happen and it should be rooted out but Harry Thomas, Jr. was found guilty of theft and Kwame Brown was found guilty of mortgage fraud so campaign finance reform wouldn’t have changed those outcomes.

Let the U.S . Attorney finish his investigations and let the chips fall where they may and punish all those found guilty of a crime. It is time to get this behind us and move on. Time to focus on how to get people to move from just complaining and debating in their living rooms or their neighborhood cafe about what government is or isn’t doing right and to actually get them to come out and vote and take part in this great system of Democracy that we have here in the United States.