The John A. Wilson Building has seen its share of scandal over the last three years.
D.C.'s political world has been shaken by a string of scandals over the last three years. With all of the allegations, pleas, resignations, and special elections, it's sometimes difficult to keep track of which elected officials have been embroiled in some type of wrongdoing. Below is a primer on D.C.'s political scandals.
Michael Brown: On June 10, former D.C. Council member Michael Brown pleaded guilty to taking $55,000 in bribes from federal agents posing as D.C. businessmen seeking preferential access to city contracts. Brown will be sentenced in October, and could serve 37 months in prison. Brown also admitted to illegally taking $20,000 for a 2007 campaign, though he wasn't charged for that offense. This wasn't Brown's first run-in with the law—in 1997 he pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation related to Sen. Ted Kennedy's re-election campaign. Brown was first elected to the Council in 2008, and lost his re-election bid to Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) in November 2012. He briefly entered the race for an open At-Large seat in 2013, but dropped out after he was confronted by federal agents.
Marion Barry: In early June 2013, the Washington Post reported that Council member Marion Barry had accepted $6,800 worth of gifts from two D.C. contractors that do business with the city. The council's code of conduct prohibits members from accepting gifts worth more than $20 from contractors; Barry called the gifts "loans." In 2009, Barry was criticized for steering a $15,000 city contract to his then-girlfriend. In the wake of the claims, in 2010 his colleagues stripped him of a committee chairmanship.
Jim Graham: In February 2013, Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) was reprimanded by his colleagues for allegedly intervening in a Metro land deal. Graham also lost his oversight of the city's liquor board. The reprimand stemmed from a 2012 Metro report that chastised Graham for his conduct in the affair, which involved a developer bidding on a parcel of land above a Metro station. Graham denied any claims of improper acts, but the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability found that he had violated the city's code of conduct.
Kwame Brown: On June 8, 2012, former Council Chairman Kwame Brown pleaded guilty to felony bank fraud for falsifying employment and income records in order to get two loans worth more than $230,000. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of campaign finance violations. In the wake of the revelations, Brown was forced to resign his seat, which was subsequently filed by Council member Phil Mendelson. In November, Brown was sentenced to one day in custody and six months of home confinement. In December, Kwame's brother Che was similarly charged with bank fraud; in March 2013, he was sentenced to three months in prison.
Harry Thomas, Jr.: On January 6, 2012, former Council member Harry Thomas, Jr. pleaded guilty to stealing just over $350,000 in city funds meant for children's sports programs. He was also charged with filing false tax returns. In May, Thomas, the son of former Council member Harry Thomas, was sentenced to 38 months in prison; he is serving his time at a facility in Alabama. Thomas' seat was filled by Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) in May 2012.
Vincent Gray: Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign remains under federal investigation. In July 2012, federal prosecutors said that at least $653,000 in unreported campaign contributions—the majority coming from a prominent D.C. contractor—went into helping Gray's run against former Mayor Adrian Fenty. So far, three campaign operatives have been charged in relation to the "shadow campaign": Jeanne Clarke Harris, Thomas Gore and Howard Brooks. Gray has denied knowing anything about the illicit contributions.
All of these scandals have provoked varied responses. In late 2011, the Council passed comprehensive ethics legislation that tightened up the city's ethics rules and established the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which can investigate misdeeds and provide guidance to city employees on what's right and what's not. More sweeping changes to campaign finance laws proposed by Gray and various Council members remain stuck in the legislature, though one committee is debating a bill that would create a public financing system for local elections.
Aside from negatively affecting the city’s image, the scandals have cost D.C. taxpayer’s money. The two special elections called in response to resignations cost more than $1 million to conduct—$317,000 for a May 2012 election in Ward 5 and $832,788 for the April 2013 At-Large election.