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D.C. Republicans to appeal decision to clear Gray in campaign finance case

The D.C. Republican Committee will file an appeal Thursday to the Office of Campaign Finance's decision to clear Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) of allegations he improperly used his council stationery to solicit a campaign contribution for the local Democratic Party.

In August 2008, Gray wrote Comcast asking that it contribute $20,000 to the D.C. Democratic Committee State to help finance its activities at the Democratic National Convention. Gray wrote the donation would have a "specific purpose" of advancing the cause of voting rights. The local GOP alleged he violated election laws prohibiting elected officials and candidates from using government resources for political purposes.

Earlier this month, the Office of Campaign Finance ruled Gray's letter conformed to the law because it was designed to advance voting rights, a cause that is backed by the District government.

Paul Craney, executive director of the D.C. Republican Committee, said that decision "opens the doors" to elected officials using their offices to raise money for political purposes. Under election law, lawyers for the GOP allege, the act of raising money is governed by what organization or committee the money is raised for - not what it is used for.

"The decision of the Director [of the Office of Campaign Finance] allowing such a clear abuse of taxpayer-provided official resources for political purposes is arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law," states the appeal, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Post.

Gray, a Democratic canddiate for mayor, has maintained he didn't view the letter as political because he was raising money for had Democratic efforts to promote voting rights. Gray mentions voting rights numerous times in his solicitation to Comcast.

But GOP leaders note that, on the same day it ruled in support of Gray, the Office of Campaign Finance found the D.C. Democratic Committee violated numerous election laws by failing to report the cpnvention donations and expenditures.

The office ruled that Democrats' convention account was established for a political purpose, despite concluding separately that Gray had been raising money for a non-political purpose.

"They were essentially saying it's okay to raise illegal money, it's not okay to accept it?" Craney said.

Gray, noting it is being filed by the GOP, called the appeal "purely political" in a brief interview Wednesday night.

"They conducted a four month investigation and looked at all the facts," Gray said of the campaign finance office. "It seems frivolous and unwarranted to me."

If the ruling is not overturned, GOP lawyers and leaders say elected officials will be able to use government resources to raise money for their campaign accounts so long as they specify the money will be used for charitable or non-political purposes.

"This is pretty common sense," Craney said. "Most people agree you shouldn't be allowed to do this."

Furthermore, the GOP questions why the board did not dispute the amount Gray solicited, $20,000. District law imposes a $5,000 limit on contributions by a single donor to a political committee during an election cycle.

According to campaign finance records, Gray's solicitation resulted in a $10,000 donation from Comcast. The Office of Campaign Finance has instructed the Democratic committee to return the excess donation to Comcast.

The three-member D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics will hear the GOP appeal, but Craney vows to also take the matter to court if the party is not succesful in having the ruling overturned.

--Tim Craig

By Tim Craig  |  April 22, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
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