Former U.S. Rep. Brenda Jones Took Illegal Campaign Cash From Donors Doing Business With City Of Detroit: The Intercept

Former U.S. Rep. Brenda Jones Took Illegal Campaign Cash From Donors Doing Business With City Of Detroit: The Intercept

Former U.S. Rep. Brenda Jones accepted illegal campaign cash from donors doing business with the city of Detroit, according to a review of campaign finance records and interviews with ethics experts by The Intercept. Rep. Brenda Jones, (D-Mich.) is sworn in during a ceremony with John Pitts, center, holding the Bible, and former House Speaker Paul Ryan, left, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Detroit City Council president and former U.S. Rep. Brenda Jones may be in hot water just as she is challenging the incumbent Rep. Rashida Tlaib for a seat in Congress.

According to a report in The Intercept, Jones accepted campaign contributions that violate Michigan state rules against pay-to-play activity. A review of campaign finance records and interviews with ethics experts found that Jones accepted illegal campaign cash from donors who do business with the city — a no-no under state law. 

“During her 2017 bid for reelection to city council, Jones accepted $5,500 in campaign contributions from then-First Independence Bank chairman and CEO Barry Clay, and an additional $4,000 in campaign contributions from First Independence Bank board member Douglas Diggs,” The Intercept reported. She took the campaign donations at a time when First Independence had a contract with the Detroit police and fire pension fund. As president of the city council, Jones is a trustee of that pension fund. First Independence organizes a loan program for the pension fund.

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The donations also were more than the campaign caps under state rules. For senior leadership of contractors with public pension funds, the state cap is $350 per election. With the 2017 primary and the general election combined, the cap would have been $700.

“The conduct certainly looks to me to be in violation of the relevant law,” said Duke Law professor James Cox, who has studied ethics and pay-to-play issues. “It strikes me as pretty blatant.”

The revelation of the illegal donations comes at a time when Jones is running in a tight race against Rep. Tlaib. 

Jones was first elected to Detroit City Council in 2005. In 2018, she was elected to serve out the remainder of U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr.’s term in Congress after he resigned. In the primary, Jones faced off against Tlaib and got beaten by 900 votes. Tlaib went on to win the race for the seat. The rematch between Tlaib and Jones will take place on Aug. 4.

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“There is no way of reading (the contributions to Jones’s council campaigns as) other than a violation of the pay-to-play law,” said Craig Holman, an ethics lobbyist with the good government group Public Citizen, in an Intercept interview. “This is pay-to-play politics at its classic behavior: executives of an enterprise that depends on government contracts seeking to curry favor with officials responsible for awarding the contracts by handing campaign cash to those same officials. Both the enterprise and the officials who accepted those campaign contributions should face the consequences of violating the law.”

While Jones did not comment on the allegations, earlier this month she announced that she had tested for COVID-19, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“Fortunately, because I am not experiencing any of the horrific symptoms associated with the coronavirus, I will continue working remotely from home,” she said in a statement on April 2.