IMPACT: Delaware governor, Atlanta mayor forward tainted donations to charity

D.C. campaign finance scandal crosses borders

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 Updated:

The governor of Delaware and the mayor of Atlanta, whose campaigns accepted possibly illegal contributions from an embattled Washington, D.C., businessman, said this week they will be donating the funds to charity.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell’s office said Thursday that he will give $28,050 he received from Jeffrey Thompson to several charities, including the Boys and Girls Club of Delaware. Thompson’s former accounting firm was referred to by federal prosecutors as an “assembly line” of illegal donations to various candidates.

Also this week, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs said that the mayor has also donated Thompson-related funds to various local and national charities. She offered no further details other than to say the information would be reported in the mayor’s September campaign disclosure forms.

The announcements come a little more than a week after the Center for Public Integrity asked Markell’s and Reed’s offices about donations to their campaigns received from the D.C. businessman and employees of his accounting firm, Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates.

Markell and Reed join several other politicians, including President Barack Obama, Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who have donated or returned portions of campaign contributions tied to Thompson.

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Long a major behind-the-scenes power player in D.C. local politics, Thompson has been implicated as the financier of what federal authorities call an illegal $650,000 “shadow campaign” that helped D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray win election in 2010.

Thompson has not been charged with any wrongdoing. His house and former accounting firm were raided by federal agents last March and an associate pleaded guilty last summer to running the “shadow campaign.” Thompson sold his majority stake in the firm last year.

Last month an employee and a consultant for Thompson’s former firm pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to making so-called straw donations to several campaigns. The two men — Lee Calhoun and Stanley Straughter — made donations in their names and their family members’ names and were reimbursed by Thompson or his firm.

Following one of the plea deals, U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said Thompson’s firm doubled as an “assembly line” of illegal donations that used “a special accounting system to keep track of the thousands and thousands of dollars it was plowing into political campaigns."

Thompson’s old firm released a statement last month saying its “former CEO may have violated federal campaign law by giving directions to reimburse, with his own funds or with corporate funds, employees and others who made such contributions.”

A spokeswoman for Markell says Thompson’s firm hosted a fundraiser for the governor’s campaign in 2007.

“To the governor’s recollection, Mr. Thompson attended that fundraiser only briefly,” said Catherine Rossi.

Both Calhoun and Straughter, along with their wives, are listed as each giving $1,200, the maximum allowed by state law, each to Markell’s campaign.

Another Thompson associate, Jeanne Clarke Harris, pleaded guilty last summer to giving straw donations on Thompson’s behalf. Her company, Details International, is also listed as giving $1,200 to Markell.

“We are not aware of any allegations that contributions by Mr. Thompson’s associates to Markell for Delaware were reimbursed by Mr. Thompson,” Rossi said in an email to the Center. “However, given the circumstances surrounding the Thompson-related contributions to other campaigns and out of an abundance of caution, Markell for Delaware will make a contribution to charity in an amount of $28,050.”

Thompson has also been a generous donor to federal candidates and campaigns and hosted a fundraiser for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his accounting firm the same year as Markell’s fundraiser. Clinton’s campaigns received more than $50,000 from Thompson and employees of his former accounting firm, federal records show.

Atlanta mayor Reed’s campaign records show that he received more than 40 donations totaling more than $65,000 from Thompson and his associates when he ran in 2009. Calhoun, Straughter and Harris are all listed as Reed donors.

Thompson and his employees also gave $40,000 to local candidates in Pennsylvania, including $20,000 in 2007 to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s campaign. A spokesman for Nutter did not return emails seeking comment.

Thompson donated $10,000 to former Gov. Ed Rendell’s campaign in 2006. Thompson also gave $10,000 in 2005 to Steve Westly’s failed bid to be California’s governor.

New York City mayoral candidate Bill Thompson Jr. received several donations worth more than $20,000 from Thompson associates and employees in 2005 when Thompson Jr. ran for city comptroller. Thompson Jr.’s campaign received four donations of $4,950 on the same day: one from Harris, one from Calhoun, and two from other employees at Thompson’s accounting firm.

John Collins, a spokesman for Thompson Jr.’s current mayoral campaign, said that what Thompson and his colleagues did was “wrong and unacceptable” but did not say the candidate had returned the funds.

Thompson Jr.’s comptroller campaign account is currently dormant, making it difficult to donate to charity any Thompson-related donations, he said.