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Analysis: Campaign Scandal Weighing On Gray's Political Capital

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The ongoing scandals out of the Wilson building may be hurting efforts for D.C. voting rights and autonomy.
Larry Miller: http://www.flickr.com/photos/drmillerlg/1246397248/
The ongoing scandals out of the Wilson building may be hurting efforts for D.C. voting rights and autonomy.

Three D.C. Council members called this week for Mayor Vincent Gray to resign after campaign consultant Jeanne Clarke Harris  admitted in court to orchestrating a $650,000 shadow campaign on Gray's behalf in 2010 that didn't appear in campaign finance disclosures. The Mayor says he has no plans to resign. WAMU 88.5's D.C. reporter Patrick Madden spoke with Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about the newest developments into this ongoing investigation.

It seems the investigation is getting closer to the Mayor's inner circle — how high does this go?

"That's the question right now. What did Gray now about the shadow campaign? When did he find out about it? If he found out about it, what did he do with that information? The Washington Post is reporting this week that Gray actually met with Jeanne Clarke Harris in January of this year and talked about this shadow campaign, so everybody is calling for Gray to explain himself."

Why isn't the Mayor saying more?

"There's a tension now between his legal team — his attorney — who doesn't want him to comment on this at all for his own legal reasons. And then you have the political side, the people that worked for the Mayor and worked on his campaign, which is saying, 'Mr. Mayor, your reputation, your political capital is evaporating each day it seems like, the longer you don't explain what happened here and what you knew about this shadow campaign.'"

Can the Mayor continue to be effective?

"It's interesting, when you talk to the Mayor, he'll routinely point out that the city, besides this scandal stuff, is doing fine. The city's finances are better than they have been in years. The problem is, as even the U.S. Attorney Rob Machen said, when he referenced the District's push for a vote in Congress, anything that the city is trying to do — whether it's trying to get more representation or anything else — is obscured by this cloud of scandal. And the Mayor's political capital is hurt by that."

Why is this guilty plea by Jeanne Clarke Harris and the revelation of a shadow campaign such a big deal?

"The shadow campaign gets to the heart of Gray's legitimacy as Mayor — this 2010 election where he defeated Adrian Fenty. I mean, we're talking about $650,000 that was spent, whether it was canvassing, poll workers, literature, that was spent on Gray's behalf to defeat Fenty and it was never reported. As U.S. Attorney Ron Machen said, this campaign was corrupt."

What's next in the investigation?

"The speculation, the focus, is on the unnamed co-conspirator who funded the shadow campaign. It's been reported in many places that this co-conspirator is Jeffrey Thompson, who is a very big political donor. He also appears to be part of this straw donor scheme that Jeanne Clarke Harris also admitted to taking part in where they circumvented campaign limits by funneling money to friends, family members, and others to get money to candidates, including the Mayor and other D.C. candidates."

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