Sub­poe­naed coun­cil mem­bers to com­ply

Many ac­knowl­edge cam­paigns re­ceived an or­der for records

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

The Dis­trict’s po­lit­i­cal scene was abuzz when fed­eral agents raided the home and of­fices of one of the city’s most pro­lific cam­paign donors about two weeks ago. But when the agents came look­ing for an­swers from elected of­fi­cials’ cam­paign teams, things got messy around city hall.

News broke on Tues­day that fed­eral prose­cu­tors are ask­ing var­i­ous D.C. of­fi­cials for any records re­lated to Jef­frey E. Thompson, his af­fil­i­ates and their con­tri­bu­tions to D.C. po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns since 2003.

But their ac­tiv­i­ties ex­tended into Wed­nes­day, with coun­cil mem­bers an­nounc­ing their cam­paigns’ re­ceipt of sub­poe­nas with vary­ing deadlines to com­ply. The flurry of ac­tiv­ity fol­lows a March 2 raid on the home and off ices of Mr. Thompson, an ac­coun­tant and holder of a lu­cra­tive man­aged­care con­tract with the city through his D.C. Char­tered Health Plan.

The highly un­usual re­quest set off mixed sig­nals and con­fu­sion among staff and of­fi­cials at the John A. Wil­son Build­ing, who were quick to note the sub­poe­nas were di­rected at cam­paign trea­sur­ers and not the coun­cil mem­bers’ of­fices.

Coun­cil mem­ber Jack Evans, Ward 2 Demo­crat, was up­front about the fact his cam­paign had re­ceived one of the U.S. at­tor­ney’s re­quests. His trea­surer will com­ply with the sub­poena, he said.

Later in the day, coun­cil mem­ber Yvette M. Alexan­der, Ward 7 Demo­crat, said her cam­paign re­ceived a sub­poena on Wed­nes­day re­lat­ing to her spe­cial elec­tion in 2007 and reg­u­lar elec­tion the fol­low­ing year. The cam­paign has un­til March 23 to ful­fill the re­quest.

“Of course, we’ll give them what they need,” she said.

By 5 p.m., coun­cil mem­ber Phil Men­del­son, at-large Demo­crat, an­nounced that his cam­paign had also been served. He said he learned on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon that his cam­paign trea­sur­ers from 2006 and 2010 had re­ceived the sub­poe­nas.

Mr. Thompson con­trib­uted 15 checks to the Men­del­son cam­paign in 2010, Mr. Men­del­son said.

“None were money or­ders, two were cashier checks,” he said. “Each was for $1,000 and each con­trib­u­tor was listed on the next re­port filed with the D.C. Of­fice of Cam­paign Fi­nance.”

Staff mem­bers for the city’s top elected of­fi­cials, Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray and coun­cil Chair­man Kwame R. Brown, said early Wed­nes­day that their cam­paigns had not been served.

Coun­cil mem­ber Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Demo­crat, re­port­edly de­murred on the topic at a can­di­dates’ forum on Tues­day. Some law­mak­ers said their cam­paigns had not re­ceived any­thing and oth­ers could not be reached for com­ment.

Mr. Evans said he thinks some of his col­leagues are be­ing coy.

If any­one in the D.C. gov­ern­ment is up to no good, he added, “they need to step up and say so right now. Oth­er­wise, this is go­ing to be a long, drawnout process.”

Coun­cil mem­ber Mar­ion Barry, Ward 8 Demo­crat, de­clined to say whether his cam­paign re­ceived a sub­poena. He said it is not ap­pro­pri­ate for him, or any­one else, to com­ment on an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“A lot of these coun­cil mem­bers have di­ar­rhea of the mouth, and they ought to stop it,” he said, not­ing it’s up to in­ves­ti­ga­tors to ren­der swift jus­tice. “I just urge the U.S. at­tor­ney not to string this along.”

Although fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors have been mum on what they are look­ing for of late, dis­cus­sion around city hall sug­gests the use of money or­ders — which could be used to shroud straw donors to var­i­ous cam­paigns — may be their fo­cus.

Coun­cil mem­ber Vin­cent B. Orange, at-large Demo­crat hop­ing to hold off party chal­lengers in an April pri­mary elec­tion, told re­porters this week he would en­cour­age an ad­di­tional re­view of $26,000 in money or­ders he re­ceived from Mr. Thompson and af­fil­i­ates.

The Of­fice of Cam­paign Fi­nance con­firmed on Wed­nes­day it has been au­dit­ing Mr. Orange’s 2011 spe­cial elec­tion cam­paign since Feb. 13, although it de­clined to elab­o­rate or sug­gest it is con­nected to re­cent events.

“All suc­cess­ful cam­paigns are au­dited af­ter the elec­tion they were a part of,” OCF spokesman Wes­ley Wil­liams said.

D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Demo­crat, said his cam­paign did not re­ceive a sub­poena. Mr. Wells is be­lieved to be the only sit­ting elected of­fi­cial who has not re­ceived cam­paign money from Mr. Thompson’s fundrais­ing ma­chine.

The buzz about ques­tion­able cam­paign prac­tices, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to money or­ders, is prompt­ing ac­tion.

Coun­cil mem­ber Mary M. Cheh has di­rected her staff to work up leg­is­la­tion that would ei­ther ban or sig­nif­i­cantly cur­tail the use of money or­ders to fi­nance cam­paigns in the Dis­trict.

Ms. Cheh, Ward 3 Demo­crat, said she hopes to in­tro­duce a bill be­fore the Com­mit­tee of the Whole on Tues­day af­ter cir­cu­lat­ing it around the John A. Wil­son Build­ing to gauge sup­port among her col­leagues.

“I know I’m do­ing it, whether or not any­one else is,” Ms. Cheh, who also noted her cam­paign did not get a sub­poena, said Wed­nes­day.

Ms. Cheh said her bill could be tweaked once there is ad­di­tional vet­ting of “the byprod­ucts” of curbs on money or­ders.

“Maybe in­stead of ban­ning them out­right, you could put guardrails around them,” she said. Those lim­its could in­clude a $25 max­i­mum on money-or­der do­na­tions — the same limit im­posed on cash con­tri­bu­tions — or a cap on the num­ber of money or­ders a can­di­date could ac­cept per cam­paign.

Mr. Evans said he would “cer­tainly con­sider” the pro­hi­bi­tion, but it should not be ap­proved in piece­meal fash­ion. Rather, any such ban should be at­tached to ex­ist­ing cam­paign fi­nance leg­is­la­tion or as part of a com­pre­hen­sive bill.

“Should we knee-jerk and just ban money or­ders?” Mr. Evans said. “I don’t think that’s a good way to run the leg­isla­tive process.”

Mr. Wells says it is good to look to other states when craft­ing new cam­paign fi­nance laws for the Dis­trict, since they’ve had a longer pe­riod of trial-and-er­ror than the city’s four decades of home rule.

A quick re­view of state laws shows that Mas­sachusetts, for in­stance, says po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions made by money or­der can­not ex­ceed $50, the same cap it im­poses on cash do­na­tions. Hawaii stresses that cam­paign donors have to pur­chase their own money or­ders, be­cause oth­er­wise “there would be no au­dit trail.”

“Al­most ev­ery state has had scan­dals,” Mr. Wells said, “and they’ve writ­ten laws to ad­dress them.”

PHO­TO­GRAPHS /THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Ward 2 D.C. coun­cil mem­ber Jack Evans (left), Ward 7 coun­cil mem­ber Yvette M. Alexan­der and Phil Men­del­son, at-large mem­ber, said their cam­paigns re­ceived sub­poe­nas for records in a cam­paign­fi­nance probe. Fed­eral prose­cu­tors are ask­ing var­i­ous D.C. of­fi­cials for any records re­lated to Jef­frey E. Thompson, his af­fil­i­ates and their con­tri­bu­tions to D.C. po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns since 2003.

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