Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray delivers the State of the District… (Ricky Carioti/The Washington…)
The federal investigation into Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 election now includes a focus on an alleged get-out-the-vote effort that was not publicly reported and that several campaign workers have called a “shadow campaign,” according to people with knowledge of the probe.
The former campaign staffers said the alleged activity ran outside the apparatus of the official election efforts, meaning that the spending was not reported, as would generally be required by campaign finance laws.
Several campaign aides and volunteers told The Washington Post that veteran field organizer Vernon E. Hawkins coordinated the alleged effort, sometimes working out of Gray’s downtown campaign headquarters. At the time, Gray (D) was considered an underdog, and his fundraising badly lagged behind that of the incumbent mayor, Adrian M. Fenty (D). The alleged shadow campaign would have added money and manpower.
The aides and volunteers spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid about the matter. Some said they had talked with investigators looking into the Gray campaign.
Top campaign consultants said they believed that Hawkins — a former Human Services director who was forced out in 1996 after mismanagement claims — was a volunteer who advised them on campaign literature that would resonate with voters east of the Anacostia River. The campaign workers said they don’t know the origin of Hawkins’s effort, which included getting voters to the polls and distributing literature, but that it was well-organized.
Hawkins did not return calls seeking comment, and Gray said it was his understanding that Hawkins was a campaign volunteer. Gray declined to answer specific questions about the campaign allegations, citing the ongoing investigation.
None of the people identified by The Post as being involved in Hawkins’s alleged operation is listed on Gray campaign-finance records as receiving significant compensation. Under city law, political committees must publicly report their activities even if they are not coordinating with a campaign. The Post could not find any records filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance that reflect the activity the aides described.
One Philadelphia-based consultant, Tracy Hardy, said he “coordinated with Hawkins” and “never worked for the Vincent Gray campaign.”
Hardy said he was paid by Details International. That is a D.C. firm owned by public relations consultant Jeanne Clarke Harris, whose home and office were raided this month by federal authorities on the same day authorities searched the home and offices of businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson.
Harris and Thompson — whose managed-care organization Chartered Health Plan is the District’s largest contractor, with as much as $322 million annually in city business — are longtime associates. The raids are part of a widening probe into potential campaign violations, and it includes D.C. council members whose campaigns were served with subpoenas last week for records tied to Thompson and Harris.
Also, the aides said, political consultant Junelle Cavero, who headed the campaign’s get-out-the-vote efforts on primary day, coordinated with Hawkins, Hardy and Tracey Watkins, a political consultant based in Richmond.
Watkins initially said she would speak with The Post but did not return calls. Cavero’s attorney, Tom Connelly, declined to answer any questions, including whether she has testified before the grand jury. “I don’t feel comfortable talking at this stage in the case,” he said.
In recent years, Thompson, Harris, their firms, relatives, employees and others with ties to them have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Gray, Fenty, former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), and other mayoral and council candidates.
Most recently, council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), who is running for reelection in the April 3 primary, released records of campaign donations that he says were bundled by Thompson. Orange said he now is suspicious of the contributions, particularly those in the form of money orders that were sequentially numbered made to his 2011 special election.
The Post reported a year ago that mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown has alleged that the Gray campaign paid him to disparage Fenty on the campaign trail and promised him a city job. He said he received cash and money orders, some of which he deposited in his campaign fund. The Post later reported that the Gray campaign had accepted cash contributions above the legal limit and received an unusually high number of donations via money order. Gray has denied any wrongdoing.