Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Wynn says Edwards violated campaign rules

Foundation she leads funneled money into campaign, incumbent says

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ANNAPOLIS — A representative for U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn filed a formal complaint on Tuesday with the Federal Elections Commission alleging his chief rival skirted campaign finance laws by using her position with a nonprofit foundation to funnel money to her campaign account.

The charges against Donna Edwards, who came within 3,000 votes of unseating Wynn in 2006, is the latest salvo in a heated battle leading up to the Feb. 12 Democratic primary that has included spats over fundraising on both sides.

‘‘It is vital that the public understands who and how the Edwards campaign is being financed,” Wynn said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. ‘‘It’s not coming from people in the district. It’s coming from people in New Orleans.”

The 134-page complaint, filed by Wynn campaign manager Lori Sherwood, accuses the Edwards campaign of receiving financial assistance from groups that she is aligned with as executive director of the Arca Foundation, a nonprofit social equity and justice organization. Sherwood traced several of Edwards’ donations to the same address in New Orleans.

Arca has previously awarded grants to the nonprofit educational foundation of the League of Conservation Voters. The parent national environmental advocate has endorsed Edwards and contributed money to her campaign, which the Wynn complaint contends is an ethical breach.

‘‘The main thing the public needs to know is this is not a person that has a halo over her head, which she is trying to portray,” said Wynn (D-Dist. 4) of Mitchellville.

However, Edwards has taken a leave of absence from her position on the LCV’s Board of Directors and has distanced herself from organization activities, said Tony Massaro, senior vice president for political affairs.

The complaint, which lists 34 separate charges of impropriety, is an attempt to smear Edwards through her ties to the LCV, he said. ‘‘This is an Al Wynn smokescreen to divert from his bad environmental voting record, including voting for the Bush-Cheney energy bill in 2005.”

Edwards has criticized the eight-term incumbent of being too conservative for his district. She has also attacked Wynn for receiving more than half of his money from national corporations and political action committees.

Her campaign issued a statement on Tuesday dismissing Wynn’s accusation as an attempt to discredit her.

‘‘This is a desperate 11th hour attempt by the Congressman to deflect from the fact that groups representing the core of the Democratic party and the issues it stands for — worker’s rights, affordable housing, protecting women’s right to choose, the environment — have decided that they want to fire him and are supporting me because they know I stand with them and always have,” Edwards said in the statement.

The complaint rehashes an exchange the two rivals had at a Nov. 29 debate, where Wynn accused Edwards of winning her endorsements through her foundation work.

‘‘Maybe they stand with her because she gives them money,” he said at the time.

Edwards shot back that the groups were longtime allies, but refuted claims that they were bought. ‘‘They stand with me because I share their values,” she said.

The complaint also alleges Edwards improperly used her influence with Arca to secure national allies and donations. A number of groups listed in the complaint were quick to come to Edwards’ defense and rebuke Wynn’s campaign.

‘‘It is a sad indication of Rep. Wynn’s desperation that he resorts to launching specious attacks against non-profit community groups, environmentalists and organizations representing workers and women’s rights,” Ellen Moran, executive director for EMILY’s List, said in a statement. ‘‘While Wynn launches false attacks, we know Donna Edwards will fight for the people of her district.”

Wynn told reporters on Tuesday that the findings reveal a ‘‘vast, dare I say, left-wing conspiracy designed to circumvent campaign finance laws.” He accused Edwards’ allies of exceeding fundraising limits and violating other FEC regulations.

Sherwood alleges in the complaint that the Arca Foundation gave more than $4.2 million from 2002 to 2006 to 39 organizations that have since contributed more than $75,000 to Edwards’ campaign.

The complaint further alleges that 1199 SEIU Federal PAC, a national labor group, failed to properly identify itself as an Edwards supporter in campaign ads it financed. The complaint also claims that the head of the union’s political operation co-founded a Washington-based nonprofit entity with Edwards.

Stacey Mink, spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1199, said her group has encouraged members and other unions to support Edwards, but denied any election law violations.

‘‘We are working to get her elected as we can under the FEC guidelines,” she said, adding that a dozen members for the union, which represents hospital workers in Prince George’s County, have taken leave and will volunteer for Edwards leading up to Feb. 12.

The timing of the complaint’s filing – just two weeks before the election – raised suspicion among Edwards’ backers.

‘‘Two weeks out, [Wynn] knows he’s behind and he’s grasping at straws,” Massaro said.

Wynn’s campaign attorney, Bruce L. Marcus, acknowledged that the complaint is unlikely to be reviewed before the primary, but it was important to release their findings.

Staff writer Daniel Valentine contributed to this report.