Cheh tar­gets money or­ders

Mea­sure would cap them at $25

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

D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Mary M. Cheh is set to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion on Tues­day that puts con­tri­bu­tions in the form of a money or­der on par with cash, cap­ping them at $25 to avoid the sus­pi­cions and fed­eral in­quiries that shook the D.C. cam­paign process last week.

Ms. Cheh, Ward 3 Demo­crat, di­rected her staff to craft the leg­is­la­tion shortly af­ter the U.S. at­tor­ney sent a se­ries of sub­poe­nas to the cam­paigns of at least six coun­cil mem­bers as part of a probe into one of the city’s most pro­lific po­lit­i­cal donors.

Nel­son Ayala, a cam­paign trea­surer for D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Jim Gra­ham, Ward 1 Demo­crat, said on Fri­day he had al­ready com­plied with a sub­poena that fed­eral prose­cu­tors sent on Wed­nes­day re­quest­ing doc­u­ments re­lat­ing to Mr. Gra­ham’s cam­paign fund­ing from 2005 to 2010.

The num­ber of coun­cil mem­bers linked to the fed­eral re­view of con­tri­bu­tions from Jef­fery E. Thompson, his com­pa­nies and his as­so­ciates grew through­out the week, af­ter re­ports of the sub­poe­nas sur­faced on Tues­day. Mr. Thompson, an ac­coun­tant who holds a lu­cra­tive man­aged-care con­tract with the city known as D.C. Char­tered Health Plan, is renowned for his abil­ity to raise cash for lo­cal politi­cians, although there are ques­tions about the tim­ing and form of cer­tain do­na­tions. No one has been ac­cused of any crimes.

Although fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not dis­closed what they are look­ing for, dis­cus­sion around city hall sug­gests the use of money or­ders — which could be used to

Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FHA) pro­gram man­ager Ed­ward Sun­dra was added to the law­suit in 2010, be­com­ing the fourth in­di­vid­ual charged with “bla­tant and in­ten­tional” ne­glect of anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws, along with Mr. Homer, U.S. Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Ray Lahood and FHA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Vic­tor Men­dez.

The state aban­doned ef­forts to build the project on In­ter­state 395 in Fe­bru­ary 2011, and Ar­ling­ton sub­se­quently dropped the law­suit. Last July, Mr. Homer was de­nied re­pay­ment of his at­tor­neys’ fees af­ter ar­gu­ing that he de­served them as a “pre­vail­ing party” in the law­suit.

The le­gal ac­tion strained the county’s re­la­tions with Rich­mond, where many were out­raged that in­di­vid­u­als, in­clud­ing a ca­reer civil ser­vice em­ployee, had to de­fend them­selves against charges of civil rights vi­o­la­tions for ap­prov­ing the con­struc­tion project.

The House dur­ing the re­cent leg­isla­tive ses­sion passed its ver­sion of the bud­get with the amend­ment in­tact, but the Se­nate has not passed its bud­get or the House plan. It re­mains to be seen whether the amend­ment will re­main when law­mak­ers gather in spe­cial ses­sion to craft a spend­ing plan af­ter ad­journ­ing with­out pass­ing a bud­get.

Ar­ling­ton of­fi­cials say the amend­ment is puni­tive.

“There’s a lot of feel­ing among peo­ple that Ar­ling­ton con­tin­u­ing that law­suit, and es­pe­cially against in­di­vid­u­als . . . was an abuse of its au­thor­ity, and this is de­signed to pun­ish Ar­ling­ton for hav­ing con­tin­ued it,” said Del­e­gate Robert H. Brink, Ar­ling­ton Demo­crat.

Last year, Del­e­gate Ti­mothy D. Hugo helped kill a bill to ex­tend the sunset date of an ad­di­tional 0.25 per­cent on a ho­tel tax that would have gen­er­ated an es­ti­mated $3 mil­lion for Ar­ling­ton County through 2015.

The Fair­fax Re­pub­li­can, cit­ing the HOT lanes con­tro­versy, said that if the county had a mil­lion dol­lars to spend on a law­suit, then it didn’t need the money that would come from the tax.

The mea­sure was killed, and the county was ul­ti­mately billed­more than $2 mil­lion for the law­suit.

Mr. Brink agreed that the law­suit should not have con­tin­ued to in­clude Mr. Pierce in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity, but that items such as this year’s bud­get amend­ments were un­nec­es­sary.

“I made clear last year that I thought that the suit prob­a­bly shouldn’t have gone against in­di­vid­u­als,” he said. “I don’t think that pun­ish­ing the county as a whole for an ac­tion that the county took in good faith de­fend­ing the rights of its cit­i­zens — I don’t think that that’s the proper way to go.”

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