Loose Lips

That’s Not a Loophole, It’s a Charitable Donation

The District's rowdy Republican Party is asking the city's Office of Campaign Finance to force Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. to disclose who donated to his youth sports non-profit and how that money was spent.

If the request sounds familiar, it's because Attorney General Peter Nickles is seeking the very same info about the non-profit, named Team Thomas.

The D.C. GOP notes, as LL and other journalists have, that Thomas has never disclosed any conflict of interests in his yearly disclosure forms since taking office. But we know from the Post's editorial page's reporting and HTJ's own news conference that companies doing business with the city were either donating directly to Team Thomas or sponsoring one of its events. Thomas' attorney Fred Cooke Jr. says Thomas never personally benefited from any of these donations, so he wouldn't have to disclose donations on his financial disclosure forms.

Maybe that's legally correct, but it sure exposes one giant blindspot in the public's ability to find out how the money flows to elected officials and their pet causes.

Look at it from a donor's point of view: Say you happen to be itching to get in good with Harry Thomas Jr. Would you rather a) donate a limited amount to his political campaign, which has to be disclosed to the public? Or b) write as big a check as you want to Team Thomas, without worrying about anyone else knowing? And don't forget, there won't be disclosure of how Team Thomas spends that money, as there would be for a campaign donation. So if Thomas happens to use that money to go to Vegas to talk sports equipment (as the councilmember has said he's spent some of the Team Thomas funds),  so much the better—as long as he remembers who bought the ticket.

The problem isn't limited to Team Thomas. Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry gets to give away Thanksgiving turkeys to his constituents in his name (the literal title: "Councilmember Marion Barry's Ward 8 Turkey Giveaway"), while having unnamed donors foot the bill. Barry declined to tell the Post who this year's donors were, saying only that "They do it because they want to give, not for publicity." Maybe, or maybe they give because they want Barry's help landing a city contract. There's no way of knowing.

To their credits, both Almost Mayor Vince Gray and Almost Council Chairman Kwame Brown have pledged to release all the names of donors to their transition funds. They also set maximum donation limits. But these measures were voluntary; the Office of Campaign Finance said they've got nothing to do with transition finances.

LL has a hunch the OCF is going to say the same thing to the GOP about Team Thomas. Which raises the question: Are the District's financial disclosure regulations a complete joke?

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Sally

    The Office of Campaign Finance is a total joke. With all the shenanigans that go on in DC politics, how many investigations have they launched? How many violations have they issued? How many prosecutions?

    They are a total joke. They can't even issue fines for all the campaign signs that are still hanging on lightpoles right in front of their offices and you expect them to conduct an investigation requiring actual work?


  • Embarrassed for DC

    Agreed with Sally 100%
    But also, Thomas is a total fucking crook, as anyone who's been following his "Team Thomas" debacle can plainly see.
    Seriously, he admits to taking in $100 grand a year off the books (where are those books?) and won't account for who he got it from, or what he spent it on.
    What a Fucking Crook.

  • Truth Hurts

    "Follow the money!"

    Except when you can't, because politicians/legislators don't want people to know where those trails lead.

    The City Council could, and should, fix this tomorrow. They won't. CM's who hide the dough enact (or don't) legislation that makes it possible.

    Maybe someone could sponsor an emergency bill requiring TThomas to disclose who is footing the legal bills for Cooke, Ray, et al. I'm sure these guys don't have business before the City Council.

  • alabama mentality

    Will this city ever be gentrified enough to boot these feudalistic poverty pimps out of office?

  • Bryan

    Hey guys. Take a step back and see who got 1/2 of the new members of Congress elected this year. In the wake of Citizens United, corporations are allowed to buy anyone they want a seat at the congressional table, and again, whomever they pick will remember who bought their ticket. This is not a DC thing, welcome to America, Inc. (A Subsidiary of Halliburton)

  • Drez

    You mean Vincent Gray didn't take care of the council's ethics problems while he was council chair? WTF was all that ethics BS all about?
    Oh, well. I'm sure he'll appoint a strong and independent AG. One above pettiness or political pressure.
    Yeah, right.

  • Wassup

    Bannering is the new "constituent services" fund. Slop the money in, mix it all up, and then slough it back out. Voila, banners!

  • dbrighthaupt

    "There is no way of knowing."

    I'm suppose to accept that? My career, reputation, family, finances and Ward took a public ass kicking by Grays and Bennett's specially televised grandstand for 'THAT' summation?!

    Unacceptable. There are ways of knowing. Simply enforce the laws on the books without waver nor fear of loosing ones job...for doing their job. Period!

    LL keep doing what you're doing man. Though at a snails pace, your pieces contribute toward an efficient Wilson Bldg.

  • DCDem

    @alabamamentality: Are you suggesting that when the city has "more whities" that corruption in government would somehow disappear.

    Some things/people from the south will NEVER change.

    Very transparent of you, nonetheless.

  • DCDem

    @Drez: It is so pleasant to see that you are still stuck in Fenty borg mode. Collective insanity.

  • TheresaDudley,Teacher

    We in PG County love corruption more than DC and we applauded loudly for Leslie Johnson when she was sworn-in at her inauguration Dec 6 in Upper'Smoking' Marlboro. such dumb voters and idiots and frankly whites need to assume control of DC and PG asap and do not lol.
    As a PG teacher ripping off the system for teaching dumb stuff, I side with Harry Thomas and all crooks who steal form citizens cause you idiots allow it.
    Whites really get a pass from me and that is why I support and went to court to show my unity to the arrested white PG cop, named Richard Delabrer last month he ahd children in the same school as my 2 black kids.

  • http://looselips Tony

    TheresaDudley,you are very dumb sounding. Why? If you teaching in any system a felony warrant should be executed.

  • Truth Hurts

    The white/black stuff is a convenient, and wrong, way for small minds to frame the issues.

    Whites on the city council haven't spoken up/introduced legislation to stop Thomas. In fact, I can't recall a single council member, white or black, calling out Thomas and his shenanigans. And that includes the current chairman.

  • Crackheads4Jesus