D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles is blasting a complaint against D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee as "baseless" in its claims that Rhee broke D.C. law by crafting a lucrative teacher contract.

The complaint was filed with the city's Office of Campaign Finance in June by Robert Vinson Brannum, a reliable Rhee antagonist and president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations. It charges that Rhee violated city law and standards of conduct when she "solicited or accepted private funding to support certain provisions of" the school system's contract, passed in late June by the D.C. Council.

The $1.4 billion contract, which is partially funded by nearly $65 million in private donations from four foundations, grants teachers a 22 percent salary raise through 2012, retroactive to 2007. It also lays the foundation for teachers to be paid large bonuses depending on their successes in the classroom.

The Office of Campaign Finance deemed Brannum's complaint worrisome enough to open an investigation in early June.

Brannum's point of contention rests on the private funders' provision that they reserve the right to reconsider their funding commitments if Rhee leaves D.C. Public Schools. That clause, he said, amounts to Rhee using her influence, and the city's need for cash, to hold on to her job.

Not so, said Nickles, who has been nearly as reliably pro-Rhee as Brannum has been against her.

The complaint "is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law," Nickles wrote in an opinion.

In fact, he said, Rhee would have preferred that the private foundations did not include that clause since it initially prevented the city's chief financial officer from certifying the contract as financially viable.

In addition, Nickles reiterated the funders' contention that such "leadership clauses" are common in grant commitments.

"Chancellor Rhee simply sought private funding to support compensation for teachers at a level that they deserve but that the District cannot afford in the current fiscal environment," he wrote. "There was nothing in it for her."

The final decision, and Brannum's last hope, rests with Cecily Collier-Montgomery, director of the Office of Campaign Finance.

"The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance reviewed my request and made a determination to open a full investigation of Chancellor Rhee," Brannum wrote in an e-mail. "I will await the decision from the Office of Campaign Finance."

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