The parallels between the clandestine campaign funds applied to Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 primary campaign, revealed in Wednesday’s federal court proceedings, and Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign are unmistakable and intriguing.
But do they get us any closer to connecting the candidates directly to the dirty money?
The latest development in US Attorney Ronald Machen’s ongoing corruption investigation exposed a pipeline of $608,750 in unreported cash to help drum up votes for Clinton in the Texas primary. New York City businessman Troy White pleaded guilty in federal court to one misdemeanor for failing to file corporate tax returns for the funds.
In following the money, federal investigators traced the funds to an unnamed DC businessman, according to court documents. The businessman is reported to be contractor and financier Jeffrey Thompson. The documents describe a trail of funds from Thompson through Belle International, a DC-based firm owned by Jeanne Clarke Harris. Belle transferred the $608,750 to White’s firm, Wytehouse Marketing, which paid for workers in Texas to put up street signs and do other campaign chores for Clinton.
The pipeline of funds to the Clinton campaign flowed “off the books” and were never reported as federal campaign contributions. They fit the pattern Machen described as “an assembly line for illegal campaign contributions” that funneled $653,000 through Thompson’s accounting firm in a “shadow campaign” to help elect Vince Gray.
Some of Gray’s closest advisers and political insiders have pleaded guilty to federal offenses in connection with the illegal campaign contributions, including Jeanne Clarke Harris. Vernon Hawkins, the most recent to take a plea, had been one of Gray’s intimate advisers since the 1990s. Hawkins pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials; he admitted overseeing the shadow campaign.
Thompson has not been charged with any crime, but he’s under investigation for allegedly steering hundreds of thousands of dollars of unreported funds to help elect Gray.
But the question is whether Gray—or Clinton—knew about the corrupt contributions, and whether prosecutors can prove a direct connection.
In Clinton’s case, she attended a fundraiser Thompson held for her 2008 campaign. They have been described as “pals.” Documents filed in federal court in the White case describe direct contacts between White and the Clinton campaign, but the documents do not say whether the source or the reporting of those funds were discussed. For the investigation to reach into the Clinton campaign all the way to Clinton herself, prosecutors would have to have evidence to prove that campaign workers and the candidate knew the money was dirty.
The same holds true for Gray. So far the mayor has remained mum on any connection he might have with the ongoing federal probe. Vernon Hawkins has described connections and conversation between Gray’s legal campaign and the corrupt organization that he operated. But if Hawkins discussed the shadow campaign with his buddy Vince Gray, it has not become public.
At this point in the investigation, it seems clear that prosecutors are building an airtight case against the DC businessman, presumed to be Jeff Thompson. But unless Thompson or other Gray associates can provide solid evidence—in the form of documents, recordings or witness testimony—that Gray knew of the corrupt campaign, prosecutors might not have enough to bring charges.
Given this week’s document dump and guilty plea, the pressure is still on Thompson rather than Gray.