Al Wynn and His Hidden Political Cash Register
by Matt Stoller, Thu Sep 07, 2006 at 04:42:59 PM EDT
I promised you some dirt on Al Wynn, and so here goes. It's not sex, but it is a process story that explains a bit how Wynn's political machine is structured and guarded from view. This Congressman has a strange and disturbing pattern of breaking campaign finance laws to hide the identities of the people funneling money into his campaigns. It's not that he makes mistakes, or misreports a donor here or there. Al Wynn simply choose not to follow campaign finance laws. There's obviously sloppiness here, but the pattern of flouting the rules goes so far back and is so extensive that it's hard to conclude that it isn't intentionally done to hide his funding sources.
There are the cosmetic problems, where Wynn flouts the law to hide at least part of the identify of his donors. I'm looking through his filings, and I see some big donations from Harold Ford Sr, Donnie Fowler Sr, and the chief of staff of the Governor of Maryland. Not so strange. What's weird is that Wynn is getting $2000 donation after $2000 donation from people whose employers and job titles are listed only as 'information requested'. I haven't counted how many donors he didn't collect information from, but this is not a new pattern; in 2003, the FEC fined Wynn for not listing the occupation or employer of over 51% of his donors. That's a big deal, because it means that it's very difficult to trace or report on conflicts of interest. Given the amount of developer, energy PAC, and telecom PAC money he's already getting, it's nearly impossible to tell if someone at a company is making all their employees give to Wynn by looking through public filings. Wynn simply doesn't list the employers or jobs for many of his big donors.
And then there's the campaign problem, where Wynn radically underreports the amount of money he's taking in. On his original July 15th Quarterly Report, Wynn reported receiving $61,582.69 in contributions between April 1, 2006 and June 30, 2006. Two days later, he filed an amended report saying he actually received $107,132.69 - almost double what he originally reported. Two weeks later he filed yet another version of his July 15th Quarterly Report saying he actually raised $157,275.69. Last week the FEC sent a letter asking him to explain these discrepancies and threatening an audit of his political committee.
What you have to understand here is that this is a political game. Wynn has until September 29, 2006 to provide the FEC with an explanation, which is after the primary date. In other words, Wynn is betting that hiding his donor identities and breaking the law will net him a fine, but he'll be able to pay that fine after the primary election with money he can raise as a sitting Congressman. If he actually complied with the law, he'd have to answer to voters about who's giving him money. This way, he can face the FEC rather than the voters, and he knows how to handle the FEC.
His willingness to tangle with the FEC and flout campaign finance laws is not new. In 2000, Wynn was forced to return contributions from MSFBDA Management Group, a company that laundered money through its employees to Wynn. Corporate contributions to Federal candidates are illegal, so what this company did is pay three of its officers and then those officers turned around and gave the money to Wynn. That's a no-no for obvious reasons. This history is particularly disturbing given that Wynn is continuing to not report the employers and jobs of many of his large donors. Is there another corporate contribution scandal here? Perhaps, but it's almost impossible to figure it out because he's just not reporting the information like he's legally required to.
There's more. That year, Wynn's campaign was one of 45 campaigns that failed to file a pre-General election report. In 2001, he was fined for filing his report late. This might be sloppiness, but it's the kind of sloppiness that comes from having contempt for Federal agencies in general.
As far as I can tell, here's what this means. Al Wynn is a central figure in the Maryland political machine. One of his key advisors, Julius Henson, dominates the political environment in the district, scaring politicians with his tactics, his willingness to break the law, and his vindictive reputation. It's not a surprise that two of Wynn's staffers beat up a Donna Edwards volunteer at an event, since rumors of thuggery are coming in from all over, and this jibes with Henson's MO. The FEC lawbreaking bit fills in an important piece of the puzzle, since it shows how Wynn finances Henson's tactics. It's not just that Wynn is awash in contributions from Walmart, right-wing corporate sources, and developers, it's that he systematically hides the workings of his cash machine from the public, violating campaign finance laws consistently over a pattern of many years.
This is fascinating and disturbing stuff, and it's a good argument for why we need lots more primaries. Had Donna Edwards not challenged Al Wynn, we would never know the workings of Wynn's machine. We wouldn't be able to connect Wynn's legislative support of the telecom companies to his contempt for disclosure laws meant to serve the public to his support for Bush's energy policies to his support for local developpers. But because Donna stepped up to the plate, now we know what we're up against.
There's a machine out there, a whole network of bad people serving themselves by serving members of Congress like Wynn who are openly flouting both the law and the public. We've got to bring them down. And that's not a conservative or liberal point, it's just the right thing to do.