METRO LINK – DC Councilman Michael Brown: Down for the count after mismanaged campaign?
November 1, 2012
By Hanna Mangold
In one of the most hotly-contested D.C. elections, incumbent Chair Pro Tempore At-Large Michael A. Brown has been facing scrutiny for failing to file appropriate tax returns for the Ronald H. Brown Foundation, a nonprofit where he served as president and treasurer. The foundation was founded after Brown’s father, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown died in a plane crash in 1996. There are two at-large council seats up for reelection on November 6th – one held by Brown and the other held by Democrat incumbent, Vincent B. Orange. David Grosso, the independent challenger for Brown’s seat, has been particularly keen on exposing his history of mismanaged finances, especially those connected to the foundation.
On October 2nd, the Grosso campaign posted a letter written by Grosso to the Audit Division of the Internal Revenue Service. The letter requested an immediate inquiry and audit of the Ronald H. Brown Foundation for the failure of its president, Councilman Brown, to file 990 forms since 2001. In addition to failing to file tax forms, the foundation continued to hold high profile fundraising events after the revocation of its tax-exempt status in 2010. Donors and taxpayers would have no assurance that their donations were spent in ways compliant with the stated mission of the foundation. These accusations come on the heels of other inquiries into Brown’s financial record, including late payment of income and property taxes, unpaid rent, a suspended license, and $100,000 reported stolen from his campaign account during the summer.
In his defense, Brown has argued that he stopped filing 990 tax forms for the foundation after 2001, because the amount raised was less than $25,000 per year and he was therefore no longer required by the IRS to file. Brown has in turn accused Grosso of playing dirty politics by attempting to besmirch the legacy of his late father, Ronald, who served as commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton and was the former chair of the Democratic National Committee. The Councilman Brown is a native of D.C. and has raised his sons in the same neighborhood in which he grew up. His campaign celebrates his achievements as council member, including the increases to funding for adult job training programs, tightened residency requirements for city funded projects, and improved workforce practices while chairing the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development. He also worked as an advocate for the city’s seniors, young, and LGBT citizens by supporting schools, after-school programs like the Boys and Girls Club, and the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Brown has been endorsed by nine local unions, as well as Councilmen Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).
With such a close election, Grosso is unlikely to taper his attacks against Brown in the final weeks of the campaign. His latest attacks are focused on inconsistencies during fundraising golf tournaments held by the Ronald H. Brown Foundation as late as 2008, for which entry costs ranged between $1000-$10,000. The foundation reportedly earned $544,000 in 2001—considerably higher than the $25,000 limit Brown stated when debunking critics after failing to file taxes from 2002-2012.
Although Grosso’s campaign has out-raised Brown by tens of thousands of dollars, his cash advantage may not be enough to charge a race in which he remains relatively unknown to voters. Because of Brown’s legacy as a Washingtonian, his connections — in the city known for its political roots — and resources run deep. Grosso has been campaigning actively and spending more money in order to gain recognition in his first run for office. Brown, on the other hand, may be relying on his incumbency to pad his lack of funds, but there exist a danger in that strategy. Grosso — who is from D.C., although he has also lived outside the District — is running on a platform of ethical reform and financial responsibility and that seems to directly contradict Brown’s record of management.