Campaign Allegations and an Identity Crisis

Vote buying allegations in D.C. as campaign nears end

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Shutterstock

    Brother, can you spare a vote?

    Thursday’s D.C. campaign news was dominated by allegations that Mayor Adrian Fenty’s campaign – which has a lot of cash left, but not much else – has actually been paying for votes. It’s a story that can’t possibly be proven or disproven between now and Tuesday, which of course is the point.

    TBD first reported on the charges Thursday morning, saying that at least four young people were told by a driver of “a van from the Fenty campaign” that they could make $100 per day for the last 10 days of the race by working for Fenty, and voting for him. At least one of them was not registered to vote, and the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics confirmed that he did in fact come in, register, and then vote last week.

    The young man says he never received any money, and that the job offer was a hoax. (That's vote-lying, not vote-buying.)  “Now that I didn’t even receive any money or didn’t have a job, I want to take my vote back,” he said.

    Fenty, speaking to reporters yesterday morning, said “I think one of the reasons they are trying to steer the course of the campaign in a different direction is because they know they want people who can get things done.” The mayor added, “I can’t keep talking about unspecific allegations.”

    The Washington Post reports that in addition to these latest allegations, a poll watcher for the Vincent Gray “working at the Turkey Thicket recreation center said she questioned a young Fenty supporter who told her he was paid $100 to vote” last weekend. His “name and his picture were given to election officials, who said they would refer the matter to federal prosecutors if an initial investigation indicated it was warranted.”

    Gray’s campaign wants the FBI to investigate, and has asked for a stepped-up police presence outside polling places. The elections board has expressed reluctance on this latter request, saying that cops can scare off voters.

    The allegations, while serious, are hard to, well, buy -- at least the implication that Fenty himself is involved. The mayor is too smart to get involved in an illegal vote-buying effort. If he loses next week, he’ll want a job on K Street or with the Obama Administration, not a prison term.

    Even the Post’s Mike DeBonis, who reported on the Turkey Thicket allegation, calls the story a “lightly-founded rumor,” though one given “a credibility boost” by the latest charges. DeBonis writes that he “has seen no evidence that there is any coordinated vote-buying or vote-trading operation inside the campaign, but the allegations illustrate the hazards of a fat campaign war chest in city politics.”

    As DeBonis writes, campaigns hire canvassers to knock on doors and hand out literature in the last days of a race, and they try their hardest to get these new employees to go vote for their candidate. That’s not illegal, as long as there is no direct quid pro quo. The Fenty campaign even distributed its internal “Code of Ethical Conduct” to reporters, which reads in part, “I will not offer or provide anything of value to a person to encourage or induce that person to register to vote.”

    In less scandalous mayoral race news, Fenty has brought in former White House communications director Anita Dunn for his final push – probably as close to White House support as he will get. Dunn worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and has worked for many other prominent Democrats.

    The absolute, final, really-we-mean-it-this-time mayoral debate takes place in Georgetown today, and -- perhaps as an act of mercy toward Fenty -- will focus on issues of concern to that upscale area. The only real news in this is that Leo Alexander, who has not been getting much play in what’s become a two-way race, has also been invited.

    The pro-Fenty Post weighs in with another editorial reminding voters that if Fenty goes, schools chief Michelle Rhee probably goes too. And the Washington Informer endorses Gray, saying he has “successfully managed the D.C. Council” and “promises to unite the city and to bring racial groups together,” while Fenty’s “arrogance and his aloofness have turned many Washingtonians against him.”

    There are, of course, other races on the ballot, but, as Shadow Rep. Mike Panetta rightly said to me, it’s hard for them to get much attention with the race for mayor “sucking all the air out of the room.”

    The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance has opened a formal investigation into Councilmember Kwame Brown’s campaign fundraising, acting in response to a complaint by Brown’s rival for Council chair, Vincent Orange. As the Washington Post reports, Brown’s campaign has “acknowledged errors in its reporting. But in a letter to Brown on Thursday, the director of the office said, ‘in view of the gravity of the allegations and additional issues that have arisen from our preliminary review, OCF has determined that a full investigation into this matter is warranted.’”

    The strange race for At-Large Council also continues to amaze and entertain. Popular former Council member Carol Schwartz, who has kept a low profile since her 2006 defeat, issued a statement saying a “political scam is taking place” in the race, with Shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown “purposely deceiving voters by not showing who he really is.” She says this Brown “poll leader seems like a nice guy (at least I thought so before now) and after all, it’s his name too,” but that if he was playing straight with voters, he “should have put up posters, sent out mailings, and/or called press conferences to inform voters” that he is not Councilmember Michael A. Brown.

    Schwartz endorses incumbent Phil Mendelson and doesn’t even mention candidate Clark Ray, which is becoming a common trend. In its endorsements this week, Washington City Paper did not mention Ray by name, and it seems like the paper could have squeezed his short name into its 2,200-word editorial. Ray, a bright and energetic candidate who seemed like a real contender earlier this year, gets some much-deserved attention from DCist, who calls him “one of the unluckiest guys in local politics.”

    Ray displays little frustration or anger over his weird fate. He tells DCist, “People say, ‘Why aren’t you angry, why aren’t you bitter?’ Part of me is so perplexed that there is this outpouring of sympathy for Phil Mendelson, who, by and large, if he had campaigned, door to door, wouldn’t be in this situation.” Ray suggests that he would consider running in the special election for the At-Large seat Kwame Brown will vacate if he is elected Council Chair as expected. (Ray is also ringing voters’ phones with a campaign robocall.)

    As for Mendelson, he’s sending out a truly odd mailer that shows him leaning on the wall against a barbershop wearing a silly hat. He looks more like your creepy uncle than a respected office-holder. But it least it’s getting attention.