Is Carol Moseley-Braun a crook?

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Feb. 19 2003 6:35 PM

Is Carol Moseley-Braun a Crook?

Moseley-Braun: certain to be on the hot seat as a candidate
Moseley-Braun: certain to be on the hot seat as a candidate

Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun yesterday entered the Democratic presidential fray. Her one-term Senate tenure was plagued by scandals, highlighted by a fracas over whether she misspent $249,000 in campaign donations. What, exactly, was Moseley-Braun accused of?

Though she was never indicted or punished, Moseley-Braun had some close calls with the law. The first occurred during her 1992 Senate campaign, when it came to light that three years earlier, she had deposited a check for $28,750 into a personal money-market account. The check in question actually belonged to Moseley-Braun's mother, who owned a property in Alabama on which she'd sold the timber-harvesting rights; the $28,750 was a royalty payment. Edna Moseley was staying in a Chicago nursing home at the time and relying on Medicaid to cover her expenses, something ostensibly reserved only for the near-indigent—not people with $28,750 checks to their name. The royalty should have been used to reimburse Medicaid; instead, Moseley-Braun divvied up the money with her two siblings. When the situation came to light, she apologized and paid Medicaid $15,240. The Illinois Department of Public Aid declined to launch a criminal probe.

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Moseley-Braun's post-victory honeymoon was brief. Even before she arrived in Washington, she was blasted for rewarding several campaign workers with cushy jobs at her old office, the Cook County recorder of deeds. Her campaign manager and then-fiance, Kgosie Matthews, was accused of sexual harassment by several Moseley-Braun campaign staffers; the newly minted senator stood by her man, to whom she'd been paying a salary of $15,000 per month. To celebrate their '92 victory, the pair jetted off to Matthews' native South Africa on a 27-day vacation, making use of the Concorde for one leg of their trip; several aides, meanwhile, complained that they hadn't been paid.

The real doozy, though, was $249,000 in unaccounted campaign expenditures, which spurred a Federal Election Commission investigation beginning in 1993. The FEC was investigating charges that Moseley-Braun and Matthews had squandered the donations on personal trips and shopping sprees; the campaign would admit only to lackadaisical bookkeeping and eventually filed nearly 10,000 pages of amended reports, according to the Chicago Tribune. The nearly five-year investigation did turn up some splurges, like a $4,000 tab at the Four Seasons Hotel in Maui, but the agency declined to take legal action, citing a lack of resources. The Justice Department similarly turned down two requests from the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Moseley-Braun for criminal misappropriation of campaign funds.

Yet the damage was done. Not helping matters was Moseley-Braun's 1996 trip to Nigeria, where she met with the late military dictator Sani Abacha—whose oppressive government was a client of Matthews, then a Beltway lobbyist. The journey, one of at least half-a-dozen she took to Africa during her Senate stay, was heavily criticized by the State Department, human-rights groups, and other African-American members of Congress.

Republican Peter Fitzgerald beat Moseley-Braun by 4 percentage points in the 1998 election. When the Tribune asked whether she'd ever run for office again, the departing senator replied: "Read my lips. Not. Never. Nein. Nyet."

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for Gizmodo. His first book, Now the Hell Will Start, is out now.

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