Loose Lips

The Problem With D.C.’s Lobbyist Disclosure Forms: They Don’t Disclose Very Much!

In case you missed it, The Washington Post editorial page has posted a series of must-read emails between Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham and would-be lottery businessman Warren Williams and his lobbying team.

The emails, some of which were cited in The Washington Times last year, raise all kinds of questions about Graham's behavior in the lotto deal and add even more evidence to the truism that when it comes to contracting with the District government, political concerns count for wayyy too much.

But leaving all that aside for a second, the emails also highlight another problem with District government: its lack of transparency in the lobbying process. Every six months, the District's Office of Campaign Finance makes lobbyists and companies file reports on which Distirct officials they lobbied, what they were lobbied on, and how much that lobbying cost. Sounds good in theory, right? The public can see who is influencing the city's elected officials, or at least trying to. But a look at the report filed by Williams' company: W2 Tech, suggests that we may not be getting anything close to the full picture.

According to the emails the Post published, two W2 Tech lobbyists, Crystal Wright and Jim Link, met with Graham on May 29, 2008 to discuss the lottery contract. (Link also mentioned in an email that he had a meeting schedule that same day with Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh.) Link and Graham then exchanged a few emails over the next couple of weeks following up on their meeting.

But if you go to the W2 Tech's lobbyist disclosure form filed on July 10th, 2008, there's no mention that these interactions took place. The form requires that W2 Tech identify "the official and title, if known, in the executive or legislative branch, with whom [W2 Tech] has had oral or written communication during the reporting period relating to lobbying activities, and the date that communication was made." But all W2 Tech reported was that on May 5, 2008, it communicated with 'Columbia, Council of the District."

Williams & Co. also didn't identify what they were lobbying about. Under the section where W2 Tech was supposed to identify "matter(s) by subject and formal designation on which the lobbyist/registrant expects to lobby," W2 Tech wrote: "Consulting Services." The word lottery doesn't even appear anywhere on the form. (By contrast, Intralot, the Greek-gaming giant that tried to team with W2 Tech and was also lobbying for the contract, wrote "D.C. Lottery" on its form, and identified the specific councilmembers it lobbied and when.)

And W2 Tech also indicates that it paid its lobbyists "$0" for their services, which LL has a difficult time believing is accurate.

Nobody involved with W2 Tech immediately returned LL's calls. (Incidentally: Link's company bio says he used to be a Republican fundraiser and that he worked for future Vice President Dick Cheney when Cheney was a congressman from Wyoming; he's been lobbying Congress for internet gambling on behalf of Intralot since 2009, according to House and Senate records, which are much more detailed than the OCF records.)

Wesley Williams, a spokesman for the OCF, says his office is reviewing the emails but "no determination has been made as to how or if we will proceed on the matter."

But why is the OCF just now reviewing this matter? How was W2 Tech allowed to get away with writing "consulting services" on its form and not be challenged by OCF? How could it write "Columbia, Council of the District" when asked which officials it had lobbied and not be ordered by OCF to be more specific?

Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser says she's not done with her overhaul of city ethics laws. Let's hope a look at how good a job OCF is doing at keeping lobbyists honest is on her to-do list.

UPDATE (1/29/12): Warren Williams calls LL to say that his company never paid any outside firms for lobbying, only for public relations. He says he can't speak to any lobbying done by W2 Tech's partner, Intralot.

  • City Dude

    Amazing..Daring..This is straight Pay to Play...This must be prosecuted! LL you need to doggedly persue this..You will be Hero!!

  • Drez

    Effing pathetic

  • truth hurts

    Nice work, LL. You've only scratched the surface, though. A thorough review of all hogs' (er, lobbyists) disclosure forms will reveal the enormous scale of this systemic abuse.

    I'm betting there's quite a bit of criminal fraud involved.

  • truth hurts

    Holy Crap!! Read the emails WaPo posted. Just click on the link in its editorial.

    I've been critical of Bolden in the past, but I gotta say, he emphatically warned all involved that they were entering the realm of criminal corruption. And ordered them to cease.

    Don't know how Graham can look in the mirror. What a scumbag!

  • Ward One Resident

    Seriously, you know it's bad if A. Scott tells you stop! Sheesh.

    If the Gramahstander/Grahmzilla/the Teflon Don don't get dinged for this, that man will die in office...and I mean that he will run time and time again and always win because nothing can defeat him. Nothing.

  • Typical DC BS

    Maybe someone will grab Graham's bow tie, stretch it down to his balls and strangle him with it.

  • Ward 1 Voter

    Here's hoping other Ward 1 voters are paying attention to this and remember it in 2014. And that the anti-Graham forces aren't split again.

  • Drez

    Just read those emails.
    FBI? Hello?
    Evans- how are those lottery hearings going?
    Cheh- Care to get on the record now? Or will you wIt until it's unavoidable?

  • Amazing

    GRAND JURY, Please!!!

  • truth hurts

    Internet escort add:

    "Not a solicitation for prostitution. All donations are for my time and companionship only. Anything else that happens is solely between two consenting adults. NOW LET'S HAVE FUN!!"

    Lotto/Graham email excerpts:

    LOTTO:" I enjoyed the meeting with you and the opportunity to engage in reconciliation.I look forward to discussing next steps."

    GRAHAM: "Thanks. Do you think they will do anything?"

    LOTTO: "Yes. Wheels are in motion. I would like to discuss with you.The Williams family confirmed that they never made a campaign contribution to your competitor". [Press is sniffing around]

    GRAHAM: "I would rather not continue this on email." [For benefit of law enforcement] "The rejection of your application at Metro is necessitated not by any of this, but by other factors."

    Not a precise recounting of events, folks, but a fair representation of the email exchanges. Remind anyone of the Loza "not a bribe" scenario?

  • Drez

    We live in interesting times.

  • Drez

    Where are the rules for you all and rules for us folks on this?

  • DJ Ren

    Drez, they can probably only take so many defeats in a row...

    Honestly, Graham looks even worse than usual here. Time for yet another investigation...maybe this one will get him.

  • NE John

    Let's get all these guys (and gals). Who's with me. Tonight, ski masks ....

  • Holdadice

    @NEJ: I am shocked!!! Appalled!!! Are you suggesting we
    join you in BREAKING THE LAW???? I'm with you all the way for keeping the grounds of Mt Olivet sacrosanct, but "I 'ont no nuffin' bout no jails and I ain't tryin' to find out."

    So joking or not, you're on your own there.
    .....But because I'm nosy.....exactly what did you have in mind?

  • NE John

    I was just going to throw some snowballs!

  • Holdadice

    @NEJ: LMHO

  • councilworker

    bowser says she's not finish with her overhaul...bitch please you get more money than anybody else from people who lobby and you then inturn vote in favor of what they are requesting. so all your saying is I'm not finished cause I'm still campaigning.

  • michaeliceman

    JG is a smart one. He did not say a whole lot in his responses. The other folks did most of the talking.

    One thing about JG is that he is politcially vindictive. If you don't scratch his back or he perceives some slight, he will straight carry you! He did that here. Making them explain about donations and posters and such. He is a trip.

  • truth hurts

    Graham is head and shoulders above his closest CM competitor when it comes to intelligence gone bad.

  • Friend from NE

    What folks don't want to address is that it isn't the problem of what the forms request it is instead that these folks just lied and broke the law. In addition they also tried and were successful at hiding information. This is the real problem. The majority of folks who truly lobby our city government follow the rules and the laws, it is just the minority that keep on causing problems. It is time that we get serious and charge some of these scoundrels who break the law with fraud and the folks like them will stop. Likewise we need to then make sure that we mandate that individuals who let these folks break the law are also dealt with, including politicians.