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U.S. Attorney Ron Machen announced today that he anticipates filing no further criminal charges related to former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown‘s 2008 campaign. But Machen also implied that there was some hinky stuff going on in the campaign and urged the Board of Elections to continue its own investigation. Machen’s announcement came hours after Brown’s brother, Che Brown, pleaded guilty to bank fraud for lying about his income on a loan application, a matter unrelated to Che Brown’s work on the 2008 campaign. This summer, Kwame Brown pleaded guilty to a felony charge of bank fraud and a misdemeanor campaign finance violation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a statement saying that “the closure of our criminal investigation should not be interpreted as a clean bill of health for the 2008 Kwame Brown campaign.” Machen also sent a letter to the Board of Elections, which had referred Brown’s 2008 campaign to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to be investigated in 2011, after an audit raised several questions about the campaign’s finances—including $240,000 paid to Che Brown’s sales coaching firm without adequate records to support those payments. In today’s letter, Machen encourages the board to continue its probe, which was put on hold pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
Kwame Brown’s attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The closure of the criminal investigation without additional prosecutions should not be a factor in the Board’s independent determination whether civil penalties are warranted. The criminal campaign finance provisions of the D.C. Code typically require proof beyond a reasonable doubt of knowledge by the defendant of the governing restrictions and the conduct in violation of those restrictions. Candidates often cannot be held accountable for misconduct by individuals working on their behalf. Individuals who work on behalf of a campaign but hold no official position may not be subject to certain provisions. Within this statutory context, the unavailability of criminal charges should in no way compel the conclusion that administrative action is inappropriate.
Machen goes on to note how hard it is to track campaign money that’s been converted to cash. Kwame Brown’s campaign finance guilty plea centered around Che Brown’s unlawful cash payments for campaign expenses in amounts greater than the permitted maximum of $50. Machen’s office notes that Brown “became the first public official in District history to plead guilty to a criminal violation of our campaign finance laws,” which is kind of amazing. After his guilty plea this summer, Kwame Brown gave a speech to reporters indicating that he was not the only city politician guilty of such a crime.
“I am guilty of knowing that poll workers and others received more than $50 in cash payments for doing campaign work, which is and has been done in this city for years,” Brown said.
In his letter, Machen urges the BOE to “vigorously enforce provisions regarding cash donations, cash expenditures, and their financial disclosure.”
“Free-flowing, unreported campaign cash creates easy opportunities for abuse, vote-buying, misappropriation, or outright theft with no hope of meaningful oversight,” Machen writes. “We urge the Board to demand transparency by cracking down on cash expenditures that exceed statutory limits.”
Machen’s full letter:
Photo by Darrow Montgomery