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In this week’s column on Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.’s legal defense fund, LL mentions how there are multiple ways for D.C. politicians to raise and spend money outside the reach of the Office of Campaign Finance and outside the view of the public.
One interesting example is Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown‘s transition fund. Brown, like Mayor Vince Gray, refused public funding for transition costs and raised money privately. Brown promised to release the names of donors and list his expenses after the transition, and in early February he kept his word and put the information on his website.
The information showed that Brown raised $91,800, largely from developers and labor groups, and spent $77,241 on transition expenses. The rest of the money, the Post reported, was to be “used for charitable purposes.”
But unlike OCF records, which are permanently open to the public, the donor and expense information came off Brown’s website at some point. And Brown never reported what happened to the extra $14,559 that was left over.
LL managed to obtain a copy of the spreadsheet for the Brown’s transition fund, called “Making a Difference Fund Inc,” which shows that only $400 of the remaining funds went to charity ($300 to Friends of Ballou and $100 to the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club). The rest was spent on bookkeeping, transportation, and consulting fees.
Some of those consulting fees—$4,000 to be precise—went to the sales coaching firm of Brown’s brother, Che Brown, the records indicate.
Che Brown’s company, Partners in Learning, has never been paid directly by any campaign, city records show. But an audit done earlier this year by OCF details how Kwame Brown’s 2008 council campaign paid $240,000 to Partners in Learning, through a third-party contractor. The fact that Che Brown has not turned over bank records to OCF despite multiple requests is likely a major reason why the Board of Elections and Ethics recently referred its stalled investigation of Kwame Brown’s 2008 campaign over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“We think there’s criminal activity here and it needs to be looked into,” said BOEE Chairman Togo West at the time.
Another $7,652 of the money left over from Kwame’s transition fund was paid to the Lancer Group, a campaign field operation company operated by consultant Harold Gist that Brown’s 2010 campaign paid more than $190,000. Gist couldn’t be reached for comment.
Kwame Brown’s office did not respond to questions about transition fund spending. Aura Garcia, who works at the D.C. Council’s H.R. office and is listed as one of the transition funds’ directors on incorporating documents, declined to comment on who made spending decisions about the leftover money.