Loose Lips

Anti-Bundling Tommy Wells Took A Bundle, May Do It Again

Tommy Wells Took Bundled Contributions

Ward 6 Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells wants to ban campaign bundling. But he took bundles of cash from at least two restaurateurs during his re-election campaign last year and says he may do so next time, too.

Bundling, for the unawares, is the practice of a campaign donor using multiple entities to circumvent maximum donation limits.

Since ethics reform became the talk of the town, Wells has been outspoken on outlawing bundling and has proposed legislation seeking to ban it. At an ethics hearing today, Wells nudged staff from the Office of Campaign Finance to go on record saying they support that measure.

Not surprisingly, none of Wells' colleagues have been keen on joining him. That's because bundling is the lifeblood of many campaigns. You can find evidence of bundling in virtually every candidates finance reports ... including Tommy Wells'.

A quick look at Wells' re-election campaign from last year shows that he accepted four donations of $500 each (the maximum allowed in ward races) from restaurants owned by Barracks Row restaurateur Xavier Cervera. The donations all came on the same date.

"If I believe in a candidate ... I'll try and maximize my donations," says Cervera.

Similarly, Wells also took in a bunch of money from restaurants owned by Joe Englert, prolific bar mogul and the pied piper of H Street redevelopment. Englert gave $500 himself on April 13, 2010. On the same day at least six Englert-owned entities, including Politiki and Rock and Roll Hotel, gave Wells $1,400.

So, is Wells a big ol' hypocrite for railing against a practice he's benefited from?

No way, says Wells. The councilmartyr says he not only accepted bundled donations, but also ran a constituent service fund and probably took campaign donations from businesses that contract with the city—practices he says he now opposes, as well.

Such is the current "crisis in confidence" facing the council after a raft of scandals, says Wells, that the council needs a complete re-evaluation of how it does business.

But don't assume, as LL did, that Wells is ready to give up on bundling should his ban fail to pass. Wells says he'd probably be unlikely to take bundled donations, but isn't ready to rule it out. He says he'd have to consider how much of a dent it would put in his chances of being re-elected.

"Do I run again with one hand tied behind my back?" says Wells, noting that President Barack Obama faced a somewhat similar dilemma when he opted out of public financing for his 2008 campaign.

Wells also noted that despite his support of doing away with constituent service funds, he hasn't decided whether he'll shut his down, either.

In other words: Do as Wells says, not as he does?

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Skipper


    And this, in a nutshell, is why Wells isn't taken seriously by any of his colleagues.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    Skipper: He's saying 'fix the damn system,' but if his colleagues won't go there, he's not going to show up to a gun fight with a knife.

    That's not hypocritical. That's doing what you can to try to change things, then, if unsuccessful, realizing that you have to keep fighting the system from the inside.

    You gotta play the game to win.

  • Some Guy

    I agree with IMGoph. Wells may want to change the current rules, but as long as they are the current rules, it is his right to play by them. The real hypocrites are those who talk about ethics reform, but do nothing to actually support ethics reform.

    It's like when Warren Buffett supported tax hikes for the rich and the right wingers said he was free to contribute as much as he wanted to the government. The issue is not one of personal choice, but of systemic reform.

  • W Jordan

    Then this is really not a matter of ethics. All are full of $hit.

  • non

    If Wells doesn't get rid of his CSF (and I don't think he should--there are plenty of folks in Ward 6 who can use help) then at least he can use more of it for actually helping constituents with things like one-time rental assistance and small home repairs, burial expenses, school supplies, furniture for people who lose theirs in fires, etc. I'm also cool with it being used to give away tickets to fun things in the city, as long as everyone in the ward can enter for them and it's not a political perk.

    He's doing better than most council members on this already, but there's room for improvement.

  • Todd

    I think that you missed the point, Alan. As others have said, it's not hypocritical for him to follow the law while advocating for its change. It would have been hypocritical for him to say that candidates shouldn't accept bundled money notwithstanding the law and then accepting the money himself.

    I was more amused by the councilmembers poo-poo'ing the idea of banning bundled contributions because folks will just find other ways to contribute. That's kind of like the fox telling the farmer to leave the chicken coop unlocked because foxes will always figure out ways to get the chickens.

    I am not convinced that Wells' proposal is workable, but I don't think that "they'll just figure out a way to circumvent the law" should ever be used to let a problematic situation continue.

  • Blevins

    @Skipper, how about re-reading the piece, and this time try to pay attention?

  • Southeast Ken

    Tommy Wells is an liberal idiot!

  • Barrie Daneker

    I disagree with some opinions here. People with integrity do what they say they are going to do. Others have excuses. I totally agree with LL>

  • Andrew

    Great argument, Southeast Ken. Very convincing.

  • SEis4ME

    How lovely. Tommyfans are now advocating that it's "ok" to do something you are against, as long as it's still legal and others are doing it.

    Sorry fans, you've lost every bit of credibility here.

  • Wrack

    @non, there are plenty, PLENTY of ways for altruistic benefactors to get their money to people in Ward 6 who need it. This idea that the CSF is the only avenue for charity is absurd (especially since only tiny portions of the CSFs are actually spent on charity).

    If philanthropic people can't help their neighbors without going through their local legislator, we're all royally fucked, because we're a bunch of idiots.

  • Todd

    @SEis4ME - I wrote that it is not hypocritical of Wells to accept bundled contributions while he is working to ban the practice for everyone. It WOULD have been hypocritical if he had said that no candidate should accept such contributions under the current system and then he himself accepted them. Calling everything "hypocrisy" robs that word of its meaning.

    I do, however, think that it's worthwhile for Suderman and others (Weaver) to show how much bundled $ candidates have received.

    @Wrack - I agree. People who think that the existing CSF system is OK should ask themselves why an individual or company would want to donate to a CSF rather than a charity. For the influence, right? Any other reason? Isn't that the issue? Are CSF donations even tax-deductible?

  • DCPrttyGurl

    Twells is just like Newt a big hypocrite. I agree Todd the fund is all slush!

  • RepoMan

    @ Seis4ME,

    I concur and Tommy Wells is the most unethical of them all. A man that speaks out of both sides of his mouth is typically a man that gives and takes favors.

    @ Alan Suderman,

    I hope you exert as much investigate energy following-up on the Wells, Joe Englert and Xavier Cervera campaign bundling lead as you did on K Brown, Thomas, Alexander, Gray, M Brown and Barry.

  • BenDoubleCrossed

    Money is speech. If that is not the case then explain the language of the press exemption:
    "2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) The term "expenditure" does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate".

    Reformers attempt to make it all about ethics and right thinking, but we are all special interests and all hypocrites. Campaign reforms are about censorship and censorship is ugly, unfair and ignoble. The only thing campaigns produce is communications for mass distribution in the attempt to sway voters. If voters are too lazy to research candidates and issues or incapable of understanding and comparing messages from competing sources then any attempt at reform is an exercise in futility. Campaign reforms are about creating an advantage for one side and tilting the playing field.

    UNITED STATES v. ASSOCIATED PRESS - Decided June 18, 1945
    It would be strange indeed however if the grave concern for freedom of the press which prompted adoption of the First Amendment should be read as a command that the government was without power to protect that freedom. That Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society. Surely a command that the government itself shall not impede the free flow of ideas does not afford non-governmental combinations a refuge if they impose restraints upon that constitutionally guaranteed freedom. Freedom to publish means freedom for all and not for some. Freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not. Freedom of the press from governmental interference under the First Amendment does not sanction repression of that freedom by private interests.

    The corporate method of organization is not going to be banned any time soon. People work in corporations. They invest in them or own them (most are small). Interest groups, from the ACLU to the NRA to DownsizeDC.org, are all corporations too. The persons in these groups have interests, and particularly in the non-profit sector, it's a method for organizing the so-called 99% so they can pool their resources and be sure they are heard.

    Why shouldn't candidates, political parties and grass roots non-profits find ways around spending/speech caps. Why should flesh and blood people and other than press 'corporations' be regulated. Equal protection is a basic tenet of law!

  • Blevins

    @RepoMan: Please do explain. So Tommy Wells is more unethical than Harry "I Steal from kids" Thomas, Kwame "Campaign Finance, Schminance" Brown, and Vince "It was my staff's fault" Gray? For what? For accepting LEGAL donations through bundling, then saying that he dislikes the practice, and would end it if he could?

    What's Suderman supposed to investigate - that Wells accepted LEGAL donations - someone, alert the US attorney quick!

    And SEis4ME: all Tommy says here is that he'll consider using bundling, although he dislikes the practice, as failing to do so under the current rules is a handicap. Consider...not will. So "tommyfans" are willing to allow the possiblity that folks are free to consider their options within the law and act accordingly. Crazy, right? I'll be happy to tutor you and Skipper on reading comprehension for a fraction of my usual hourly rate.

    We suspected planet one city was devoid of intelligent life - now we know for certain.

  • Anonymous

    typical wells BS. plays the straight man, gets his base all riled up, then the truth comes out. ward 6 needs new blood!

  • Mr. Remember

    I like Tommy.

  • SEis4ME

    @Todd, nice spin but if it walks like a duck...

    The reality is that (as with members of congress) if you rail against earmarks, don't ask for them. The fact that it's "legal/permissable" is irrelevant as well as the notion that someone else does it too.

  • Ward 6 Voter

    Wells is special. He will support reform as long as he knows no one else on the council will support it. So he is just a typical politician saying one thing and doing the opposite. Wells actually fits right in with this current crew on the council. All talk and little action. And for those who think Tommy "Tune" Wells is really that great, check out his tenure as Chair of the Council Committee on Human Services and all the continuing and expanding problems at DYRS and the shoddy treatment of the homeless during his tenure.

  • SEis4ME

    @Blevins, I learned to read as a kid so thanks but no thanks on the offer to teach me how to read.

    Tommy is not "mandated" to do this. It's his choice. He "chooses" to participate in a practice he disagrees with. Let me say this much, if I dont' want to practice beastiality, I'm not.

  • Blevins

    @SEis4ME: Not to read, to comprehend. Still an area of struggle, I see.

  • Blevins

    Oh and Beeteedubs, SEis4ME, your example in 22 is flawed (as usual). What you describe is illegal, what Tommy said he would consider is not. Thanks for playing, though.

  • NE Kidd

    Tommy Wells is a "Georgia Cracker" that thinks blacks are not smart and that he can eat chicken and greens and smile in their faces for approval. I like to see someone else challenge this liberal racist in Ward 6. Southeast Ken, you were close, but I nailed it on the head about this "Georgia Cracker."

  • SEis4ME

    @Blevins, Not to read, to comprehend. Still an area of struggle, I see.

    Oh my bad, I thought when you wrote I'll be happy to tutor you and Skipper on reading comprehension for a fraction of my usual hourly rate. that you were questioning my ability to "read." Thanks to your clarification, I now see that you weren't referring to my skills at reading - just comprehending.

    That makes so much more sense now.

    BTW, smoking marijuana is "illegal" but if someone campaigned against it then was caught firing up one, (while illegal) it would be no less hypocritical. Bundling is a choice. One that Tommy disagrees with but is still willing to do..because others do it too.

  • Blevins

    Glad I was able to help you understand something today.

    You need to work on your arguments as well. Perhaps I can "bundle" two classes together - again, for a generous discount.

  • Southeast Ken


  • Kesh Ladduwahetty

    This is unfair. Wells proposes these changes because he acknowledges there is a problem, unlike other CMs. Sure, it would be great if he doesn't engage in any of these practices. But it doesn't make sense to denounce him for saying there is a problem and suggesting how to fix it.

  • Rick Ressler

    oh no! what will the martin moultons of the world do now that the great messiah participates in this activity, but talks trash re it at every turn? the councilmartyr is just like the rest. sorry moulton!

  • http://letschange.org Respected Citizens

    both he and KKK evans like to talk out of both sides of their unreliable and untrustworthy mouths

  • RepoMan

    Check-out what a former City Paper reporter posted about CM Wells:

    Jason Cherkis July 20th, 2011
    11:53 pm

    I'd add that Wells wasn't very effective or even well informed when he had oversight over the Human Services Committee.

    Under his watch, the D.C. emergency shelter system imploded, the city's juvenile justice agency hit new lows, and the city's child-welfare agency continued to be hammered in federal court over its performance before and after Banita Jacks.

    Painting up new bike lanes is easy. How about true and progressive reforms for city services that support our most vulnerable?