As LL just noted, there are several D.C. councilmembers who received campaign donations from Jeanne Clarke Harris, who admitted Tuesday to running a straw donor scheme funded by Medicaid contractor Jeff Thompson.
It’s difficult, for now, to calculate how much straw money Harris may have given to local pols besides Mayor Vince Gray, whose 2010 mayoral campaign Harris admitted to giving $44,000 in Thompson money using 16 associates as straw donors. U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said Harris has been a part of straw donations since 2001, but didn’t identify who the straw donors were other than to say they are Harris’ friends, family members, companies, and their employees.
But it is possible to get a broad idea of how much money Thompson and his vast network of donors, which includes Harris and her associates, have given over the years. In fact, LL’s already done so, twice. And there’s no contest in terms of which sitting councilmember has received the most money from Thompson and his vast network of donors: Vincent Orange. At last count, LL found that the Thompson network had given Orange at least $115,000. (Though in fairness, Orange has also run for office more often than the rest of the council.)
After the FBI raided Thompson’s home and office in March, Orange succumbed to media pressure and released a batch of donations Thompson gave Orange’s 2011 campaign in the special election for the at-large seat he won. Upon further review, Orange said, he found the Thompson-tied donations suspicious and questionable and called for the Office of Campaign Finance to review the donations. Orange has always denied any wrongdoing related to that campaign’s finances. LL has already posted several stories about those suspicious donations, including donations from Thompson’s masseur, caterer, and Hollywood producer partner. There’s also the three money orders that were purchased from same clerk at the same post office on the same day but purport to be from a security guard in Silver Spring, an interior design assistant in Atlanta, and the manager of a stationary store in San Francisco.
But the donations aren’t Orange’s only exposure to the kind of corrupt campaign finance drama that’s engulfed the mayor. Besides being the biggest receipient of Thompson campaign money on the council, Orange has ties to the major players in the Gray shadow campaign federal prosecutors say was running afoul of all sorts of campaign finance laws. Harris spent part of election day 2011 at Orange’s campaign headquarters smoking a cigarette, according to a campaign aide who was there. (The no-nonsense septuagenarian Harris is known to smoke where she pleases.)
Vernon Hawkins, a major coordinator of the shadow effort, was a top adviser to Orange during the 2011 campaign. Orange even thanked Hawkins, calling him “one of the top strategists in town,” when he was sworn into the council after the 2011. As it just so happens, Hawkins was at Orange’s 2012 campaign headquarters when news broke that the FBI was raiding Thompson’s home and office and Harris’ home, according to another campaign aide. Hawkins’ face turned “ashen” immediately after he heard of the raid, the aide says.
Thompson’s attorney has a policy of not commenting on the investigation. Hawkins has not returned calls seeking comment. And Harris declined to speak with LL.
So what does Orange make of all these connections? He’s also not talking, and has not returned multiple requests for comment made in the last couple days. Something tells LL that may not be the best long-term political strategy.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery