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D.C. Mayor Under Fire For Unreported Campaign Cash

Jul 13, 2012
Originally published on July 13, 2012 10:24 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Here in Washington, D.C., the city government has been enveloped by a series of scandals and federal investigations this year. Two city council members have resigned after pleading guilty to bank fraud and embezzlement. And now, there are calls for the mayor, Vincent Gray, to quit too. Three of Gray's campaign associates have pleaded guilty to various crimes. Here's Patrick Madden of member station WAMU.

PATRICK MADDEN, BYLINE: For over a year, federal authorities have been probing Gray's 2010 campaign. First, the investigation revealed that one of the mayor's campaign staffers paid off a fringe opponent to stay in the mayor's race and bad-mouth the incumbent, Adrian Fenty. Later, a campaign consultant admitted orchestrating a massive straw donor scheme in which thousands of dollars were funneled through friends, family members and others to skirt contribution limits and fill the campaign coffers of Gray and other politicians. And now, the revelation this week of an off-the-books shadow campaign waged on Gray's behalf against Fenty. U.S. Attorney Ron Machen flat-out says the mayor's campaign was corrupt.

RONALD MACHEN: The mayoral campaign was compromised by backroom deals, secret payments and a flood of unreported cash.

MADDEN: And that flood of unreported cash has Gray fighting for his political life. Machen says this secret effort waged on the mayor's behalf calls into question the legitimacy of Gray's 2010 primary victory over Fenty.

MACHEN: The 2010 shadow campaign was the handiwork of a well-financed conspiracy to funnel corporate money into federal and local elections.

MADDEN: Machen says more than $650,000 of funds were illicitly funneled from a local businessman to a onetime Gray campaign consultant named Jeanne Clarke Harris, who pleaded guilty this week. Harris admitted in court the money was then spent on the mayor's behalf - yard signs, consultants, drivers - and purposely kept off the books. She says this secret effort was coordinated with members of the mayor's campaign. Prosecutors have not charged Mayor Gray with any wrongdoing, and there's no evidence the mayor knew about the shadow campaign during the race. Gray has said he's disappointed in the people who took part in the illegal activities.

MAYOR VINCENT GRAY: This is not the campaign that we intended to run. I have said to many, many people that I got into this for the right reasons.

MADDEN: But this week, three D.C. council members, a quarter of the entire body, went on the record asking the mayor to resign. The most notable, a councilwoman named Mary Cheh, who in 2010 broke ranks with the overwhelming majority of voters in her ward and endorsed Gray.

COUNCILMEMBER MARY CHEH: Whether he knew it or not, that's not the important point anymore. The person at the head of the organization has to take responsibility.

MADDEN: Cheh says the mayor has to step down before the city can move forward.

CHEH: I think that we need to sort of clear the decks, get a fresh start.

MADDEN: Gray says he has no plans to resign, and today, he fought back against those demanding his resignation, saying he believes it's politically motivated. But the calls for Gray to break his silence and say what he knew about the shadow campaign get louder each day. The latest, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city's lone voice in Congress, she says Gray has an obligation to clear this matter up quickly, but so far, the mayor is not commenting.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. Mayor, at what point can you just throw your lawyer's advice away and just tell the district residents what you know happened?

GRAY: I don't think one would throw their lawyer's advice away. I don't - I think that would be a very foolish thing to do.

MADDEN: Foolish but some say necessary for Gray to salvage his political reputation and help the city escape the cloud of scandal and uncertainty hanging over city hall. For NPR News in Washington, I'm Patrick Madden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.