Fenty campaign accused of vote-buying in D.C. mayoral race

UPDATE 6:59 P.M.: Here's the official complaint from the Gray campaign to the District's Board of Elections and Ethics.

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Letter to BOEE Fenty Vote Buying

UPDATE 5:56 P.M. Fenty campaign spokesman Sean Madigan wasn't sure the exact day the code of conduct was distributed, but says the campaign had intended to have it ready for use during the early voting period. He says campaign workers go through training sessions before they hit the streets for Fenty.

"It's a couple different sessions and we're very clear about here's how you should conduct yourself," Madigan says.

Madigan declined to say how many workers had signed the code, saying that would divulge the mechanics of the campaign's operation.

"We have been very upfront with all of our canvassers, especially today ... they have to be extremely careful," Madigan says. "No messing around. If we get a whiff of something wrong, we pull people off the job immediately."

UPDATE 1:48 P.M.: Here's the Fenty campaign's "Ethical Code of Conduct." Spokesman Sean Madigan said all campaign workers and volunteers are asked to sign the pledge.

Fenty 2010 Ethical Code of Conduct

UPDATE 11:58 A.M. Fenty, when asked to respond to a Gray adviser's assertion that vote-buying was a widespread practice within the mayor's campaign, said: "What's a widespread practice in this campaign is my opponent's desire to talk about anything else but his record or my record."

He said the woman who answered the phone at campaign headquarters was just working at the front desk and "gave the best answer they could," and he repeatedly said the allegation didn't have enough details for his campaign investigate.

"If there's an allegation that someone has made a mistake, bring it to us and we'll take action," Fenty said. "But if there's no specific name or if there's no specific allegation, then you've got our statement and let's move back to campaigning, talking about the issues."

UPDATE 11:34: Fenty is being questioned by a pack of reporters outside School Without Walls on this story right now. We'll have the video up soon.

Fenty seems to be encouraging Gray to talk about his record: "I think one of the reasons they are trying to stear the course of the campaign in a different direction is because they know they want people who can get things done."

"We do extensive training to all of our people. ... You do all the training in the world and if someone breaks that training then you bring them in to investigate. If it's alright with you all, for the next five days, unless someone gives me a name, let's talk about the issues that affect this city. ... I can't keep talking about unspecific allegations."

UPDATE 10:59: TBD Reporter and Facts Machine helmsman Kevin Robillard is reporting from the scene of a press conference at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. There were several questions asked about the allegations of vote-buying, and BOEE Executive Director Rokey Suleman responded, "We take every allegation of vote-buying and fraud seriously." However, BOEE is something of a pass-through organization for such allegations — it merely turns over any complaints or evidence to the "authorities."

The Gray campaign asked for police officers to be posted outside polling stations. Suleman said no dice: Cops have a "chilling effect" on voting. "We don't believe that's necessary," he said.  

UPDATE 10:20: Elleithee: There are people in that campaign who know what's going on.

UPDATE 10:15: Jordan is asked whether, perhaps, some of this is ginned up by the Gray people. Jordan follows with a denial and says the Gray campaign doesn't stand accused of such. Then, Mike DeBonis responds that Ron Moten has indeed leveled such an accusation. Jordan responds, "Ron Moten is Ron Moten."

UPDATE 10:15: Jordan insists that the Gray campaign is going to ask the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to take some sort of action with respect to these reports. When asked specifically what action that might be, Jordan said he is not sure at this point.

UPDATE 10:07: On the conference call here: Gray campaign official says they'll ask the FBI to investigate.

Mo Elleithee, a senior adviser to Gray, called this story from last night "concerning to say the least." He continued: "The notion that the Fenty campaign at some level would be offering payment or employment to anybody in exchange for their vote undermines the integrity of what the electoral process should be about."

Elleithee tied the alleged practice to the mayor's pocket-veto of a bill that made it illegal in the District to buy a vote. He called that official act "unconscionable." The Gray campaign, he also noted, has called Mayor Fenty out on his "pay to play" style of politics and charged that he has had "no problem bringing the pay to play style of politics ... to the ballot box."

Lloyd Jordan, another Gray operative, gets on to say, "This is about as corrupt as you can get in our American society."

When asked if the jobs-for-votes things could be just an isolated incident, Jordan responds that based on information received by the Gray campaign, "it's a widespread practice."

UPDATE 9:53: The Gray campaign is doing a conference call at 10:00 am to address this ABC 7 story. Stay tuned right here — we'll be live blogging the entire affair.

ORIGINAL

As 19-year-old Rudolph Williams tells it, he received a pretty sweet offer last Thursday. He and his friends were hanging out in front of apartment building around North Capitol and M streets NW. Up pulled a van from the Fenty campaign.

The driver was a man who was looking to make a deal: He told Williams and others that they could make $100 per day between Sept. 4 and Sept. 14. First, though, they'd have to go downtown and vote for the man whose campaign would soon employ them: Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Williams took the man up on his offer. Soon he was heading toward 441 4th St. NW, one of the District's early polling stations.

As Williams attempted to make good on his part of the deal, he hit a snag: He wasn't registered to vote. So he took care of that on the spot and cast his lot with Fenty, who trails D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray in the polls. Williams had no idea who to vote for in the other campaigns. A Fenty aide gave him some guidance on the down-ballot races: "If you don't know who they are, don't vote for them," said the Fentyite.

Monique Folk, 21, corroborates Williams' account, saying she accepted the offer and voted for Fenty as well, though she used an electronic machine. Two others told ABC 7 that they were offered the same deal.

ABC 7 News asked Williams to call the number he had been given. It went to the Fenty campaign. And ABC 7 listened to the call on Williams' cell phone speaker, with camera and audio running. The person who answered was clearly aware that similar complaints had already come in. ABC 7 confirmed that the woman who answered the phone works for the campaign.

After the young voters cast their ballots, the Fenty van ferried them back to North Capitol Street and assured them that their tours of duty with the Fenty organization would start in two days, Saturday. Wait to be picked up, they were instructed. They say no one ever came to deliver on the promise.

Sean Madigan, a spokesperson for the Fenty campaign, challenges the accounts of the individuals interviewed by ABC 7, claiming that there is no record of Williams having cast a vote. "We would never engage in that type of campaign activity," says Madigan, who suggested that "there was a misconception or misunderstanding" between Williams and "whomever [he] spoke to."

Rokey Suleman, executive director of the city's Board of Elections and Ethics, has confirmed that 19-year-old “Rudolph Hylton Williams” registered to vote and voted at 2:29 p.m. last Thursday.

In addition to that paper trail, Williams has an electronic trail documenting his dealings with team Fenty --- an exchange of text messages with his mother. When Williams texted her that he needed the money, she quipped via cell phone, "Sale out."

Says Williams: "Now that I didn’t even receive any money or didn’t have a job, I want to take my vote back."

Gray called the alleged activity “morally reprehensible, and it’s illegal, and they should be prosecuted.”

ABC 7 will continue updating this story as it develops.

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