Raid on donor shakes city hall

Po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal fall­out could in­flu­ence cam­paigns, re­call

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

The full in­tent of a fed­eral raid late Fri­day on an in­flu­en­tial D.C. po­lit­i­cal donor’s home and of­fices re­mains un­clear, but by Mon­day morn­ing the po­ten­tial fall­out of the in­ci­dent re­ver­ber­ated through city hall, the cam­paign trail and a long-shot ef­fort to re­call the city’s top elected of­fi­cials.

Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties did not ac­cuse Jef­frey E. Thompson — the pres­i­dent of an ac­count­ing firm and owner of D.C. Char­tered Health Plan, which holds a lu­cra­tive Med­i­caid man­aged­care con­tract with the city — of any crimes or wrong­do­ing dur­ing its “law en­force­ment ac­tiv­i­ties” on Fri­day, nor did a spokesman for the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice elab­o­rate on what they were look­ing for.

But D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Demo­crat and re­port­edly the only city law­maker with no ties to Mr. Thompson’s fundrais­ing ma­chine, said the is­sue at hand “goes straight to pay-to-play, and at least the per­cep­tion to the public that it’s cor­po­rate in­flu­ence that con­trols the coun­cil’s agenda.”

When the coun­cil passed a sweep­ing ethics re­form bill last year, Mr. Wells pushed an amend­ment that would pro­hibit prin­ci­pal busi­ness own­ers from us­ing sub­sidiary com­pa­nies to in­flate their to­tal do­na­tions to a sin­gle can­di­date, a prac­tice known as “bundling.” He did not suc­ceed, and he said Mon­day he has “no con­fi­dence” the coun­cil will ban the prac­tice in the near fu­ture.

Over the course of mul­ti­ple cam­paigns, Mr. Thompson, his com­pa­nies and his as­so­ciates have do­nated $100,000 to both coun­cil mem­ber Vin­cent B. Orange, at-large Demo­crat, and for­mer Mayor Adrian M. Fenty; $90,000 to sit­ting Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray; and $33,000 to coun­cil Chair­man Kwame R. Brown, ac­cord­ing to a June re­port in the Washington City Pa­per. The re­port also noted that Mr. Wells ap­pears to be the only coun­cil mem­ber who has not ac­cepted funds re­lated to Mr. Thompson.

“Yes, that is ac­cu­rate, that I know of,” Mr. Wells said Mon­day. “There are a lot of an­cil­lary busi­nesses that I may not know are re­lated to him.”

Mr. Gray’s spokesman de­clined to com­ment on spec­ula-

tion that the search of Mr. Thompson’s ma­te­ri­als could be tied to the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mayor’s 2010 cam­paign, par­tic­u­larly the way in which it raised its funds.

“All we know is what we are read­ing in the me­dia,” spokesman Pe­dro Ribeiro said.

Mr. Brown also de­clined to com­ment on the raid. He ac­knowl­edged that Mr. Thompson has do­nated to his three cam­paigns but claimed Mr. Thompson of­fered sup­port only when he was on his way to clear vic­tory.

“Ev­ery­body sup­ports you once you win,” he quipped.

Demo­cratic chal­lengers to Mr. Orange’s coun­cil seat seized on Fri­day’s raid and its im­pli­ca­tions ahead of the April 3 pri­mary elec­tion.

Sekou Bid­dle, who was ap­pointed in Jan­uary 2011 as an in­terim at-large coun­cil mem­ber be­fore los­ing the seat to Mr. Orange last April, sent a mes­sage to his sup­port­ers that high­lights the re­ported $100,000 in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions that tie Mr. Orange to Mr. Thompson.

“Un­like Vin­cent Orange, I do not rely on cor­po­rate and spe­cial in­ter­est money to fund my cam­paign,” Mr. Bid­dle said. “My cam­paign is funded by reg­u­lar D.C. res­i­dents who are fed up and know we can do bet­ter than the cor­rupt coun­cil we have.”

Chal­lenger Peter Shapiro, a for­mer coun­cil mem­ber in Prince Ge­orge’s County, also is­sued a state­ment that says Mr. Orange “must an­swer ques­tions to­day” about his am­ple fund­ing from Mr. Thompson.

Mr. Orange said all of his op­po­nents have ac­cepted cor­po­rate do­na­tions and should fo­cus on their in­di­vid­ual records.

He also noted Mr. Thompson has not do­nated to any of them in the cur­rent cy­cle, and pre­vi­ous do­na­tions to his cam­paigns were by the book.

“If he gave me $100,000 I’d be sit­ting in jail,” Mr. Orange said, not­ing each do­na­tion tied to Mr. Thompson was within cam­paign lim­its. “His con­tri­bu­tions abided by the law.”

Mean­while, Fred­er­ick But­ler, a Ward 2 res­i­dent lead­ing an uphill ef­fort to re­call the mayor and coun­cil chair­man, said Fri­day’s events only but­tress “what we’re do­ing here.” He said the raid proves that an in­ter­nal net­work is driv­ing “acts of malfea­sance” in the city gov­ern­ment.

“I still think our ef­fort is needed and war­ranted,” he said.

Mr. But­ler, a sup­porter of Mr. Fenty, said his goal is have 40,000 sig­na­tures — roughly 20,000 for Mr. Gray and 20,000 for Mr. Brown — by April 3, when reg­is­tered vot­ers head to the polls for pri­mary elec­tions. The elec­tions will be a key time for ad­di­tional sig­na­ture- gath­er­ing, he said.

For their part, the mayor and chair­man have said they are fo­cused on the busi­ness of the city. They for­mally re­sponded to Mr. But­ler’s pe­ti­tions at the D.C. Board of Elec­tions and Ethics with an out­line of their ac­com­plish­ments.

Mr. But­ler said he has a ro­ta­tion of three vol­un­teers per day on the streets and that they will tar­get cer­tain precincts when they reach 10,000 sig­na­tures. He could not of­fer an ex­act fig­ure for sig­na­tures col­lected thus far but claimed to have “well over a cou­ple thou­sand.”

“The mo­men­tum’s only build­ing,” Mr. But­ler said.

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