Similar to their straight counterparts, many LGBT supporters of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said their commitment to his re-election has not wavered over allegations by the U.S. Attorney on Monday that Gray knew about an illegal scheme to raise more than $660,000 for his 2010 election campaign.
New details about Gray’s alleged knowledge of a so-called “shadow” campaign surfaced at a hearing in U.S. District Court Monday morning in which businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson pleaded guilty to secretly channeling more than $2 million in illegal contributions to federal and local political campaigns.
In a news conference following the court hearing, Ronald Machen, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said someone identified in court documents as “Mayoral Candidate A” was among the recipients of the illegal contributions. Although Machen did not say so directly, it was clear to reporters and court observers that Mayor Vincent Gray was Mayoral Candidate A.
Machen declined to say whether Mayoral Candidate A or other candidates receiving illegal campaign contributions from Thompson were being targeted for prosecution, saying only that the government’s investigation was ongoing.
Gray has not been charged in the case and has repeatedly denied he had any knowledge of illegal actions by Thompson and others associated with the campaign.
“This doesn’t change my level of support for the mayor,” said gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, who has served as a volunteer fundraiser and coordinator of the Gray campaign’s outreach to the LGBT community. “In fact, it probably increases it.”
Hudson was among the Gray supporters that questioned Machen’s motive behind the government’s decision to file felony campaign violation charges against Thompson and linking Gray to the fundraising scheme less than a month before the city’s April 1 mayoral primary.
Gray told the Washington Post and at least two local TV news stations that Thompson’s accusations that he knew about the illegal campaign scheme were “lies.”
Noting that Thompson made the accusations as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty on Monday in exchange for a more lenient sentence and a promise to cooperate with prosecutors, Gray said Thompson’s credibility was in doubt.
Thompson, 58, is the former chairman and CEO of a company that had a multi-million dollar city contract to process Medicaid-related services and other health-related services for the D.C. government.
He pleaded guilty on Monday to a federal charge of conspiring to violate federal campaign finance laws and to submit false filings to the IRS. He also pleaded guilty to a D.C. offense of conspiring to violate D.C. campaign finance laws by “defrauding the District of Columbia’s Office of Campaign Finance,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“Jeff Thompson is a man who’s trying to cling to his freedom and offered allegations that have not been substantiated or repeated by anyone else,” Hudson told the Blade. “And until the U.S. Attorney provides evidence to the contrary, Mayor Gray is entitled to the presumption of innocence, especially when his reputation is far more valuable than an admitted felon.”
Gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, another Gray supporter, said he and others in the LGBT community were not condoning illegal campaign practices.
“I believe Thompson should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law as should anyone else found to have knowingly participated in his schemes,” Rosenstein said. “Knowing the mayor and Thompson I am still inclined to believe the mayor. If there is definitive proof the mayor knew what was going on the U.S. Attorney owes it to the citizens of the District to share it now,” he said.
“All I know is that Mayor Gray is a great friend of the LGBT community and denies the allegations,” said Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. “Machen’s news conference and charges against Thompson seem suspiciously timed given the upcoming primary election, which is galling given the paternalistic position the U.S. Attorney is in over the District,” he said.
Rosendall was referring to longstanding complaints by D.C. home rule advocates that the city’s prosecutors are federally appointed rather than elected, as is the case with most other cities and states.
Transgender activist Ruby Corado, founder and director of the LGBT community center Casa Ruby, is among many in the city’s transgender community who view Gray’s support for transgender rights as groundbreaking and among the strongest in the nation for an elected official.
“Whatever happens, the only thing I know is I’m supporting the mayor,” Corado said. “I hope everything goes well for him. Nobody is perfect,” she said. “But I know the LGBT community is doing the right thing by standing with him.”
Lateefah Williams, an attorney and former president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political organization, was less certain about the impact of the U.S. Attorney’s actions on the LGBT community as a whole.
“I think the news surrounding Jeffrey Thompson’s guilty plea will have an impact on LGBT voters, just as it will have an impact on all other District voters,” Williams said. “Diehard Gray supporters will probably remain loyal, but those who are on the fence or who respect Gray’s accomplishments but have always been uncomfortable with the shadow campaign allegation, will find it much harder to support him,” she said.
During the news conference, Machen said the federal investigation into campaign finance law violations in D.C. was continuing and that the information released so far amounted to “the tip of the iceberg.”
In charging documents filed in court, the U.S. Attorney’s office said Thompson’s scheme involved making hidden and illegal campaign contributions totaling $1.3 to seven candidates seeking public office in D.C. between 2006 and 2011.
The documents also say Thompson funneled $608,750 between February and May 2008 for a shadow campaign for a U.S. presidential candidate. Last month, news media outlets reported they learned through sources that the presidential candidate was Hillary Clinton. Clinton has so far not commented on the reports, but people familiar with her 2008 presidential campaign have said she had no knowledge of the alleged shadow campaign.
In addition to the 2010 mayoral campaign, in which Gray was the alleged beneficiary, the charging documents say Thompson funded shadow campaigns for a candidate running in the city’s 2006 mayoral election; the 2007 special election for a Ward 4 Council seat; the 2008 election for an at-large Council seat; the 2010 elections for Ward 1 and Ward 6 Council seats; and the 2011 special election for an at-large Council seat.
Machen declined to name the Council candidates that allegedly received Thompson’s illegal contributions or to say whether they were under investigation for having knowledge of the illegal contributions. However, he said in a number of the cases under investigation, the candidate was unaware that the contributions were illegal and would not be a target for prosecution.
According to the charging documents, Thompson “disbursed approximately $140,000 in excessive and unreported corporate contributions” for a City Council candidate running in 2010 in Ward 1, where gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham was running for re-election. The Washington Post identified the candidate as Jeff Smith, one of two candidates challenging Graham in the Democratic primary.
“I have been seriously victimized by the huge illegal donation to my opponent,” Graham said in a statement released on Monday in referring to Thompson’s donation to Smith. “I want to note also that Jeff Smith failed to file his final month campaign report and his final total campaign report, which was very disturbing to me,” Graham said.
Smith couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.