Loose Lips

Free Turkeys Aren’t Free

While Mayor for Life-turned-Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry was getting all the attention for giving away turkeys last week, several other District elected officials were doing the same with much less fanfare. Here is how D.C. Watch's Dorothy Brizill describes Councilmember Vincent Orange's turkey giveaway last week:

  • A truck showed up Tuesday morning at Orange's campaign headquarters on South Dakota Avenue NE with about 300 turkeys.
  • Orange's campaign and council staff helped distribute the turkeys.
  • The turkeys were paid for by Fort Myer Construction, a major city contractor.
  • The turkeys had stickers on them that said: "Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving. From Fort Myer Construction Company in cooperation with DC At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange."

Orange did not respond to a request for comment. But D.C. Democratic State Committee Chairwoman Anita Bonds, who works for Fort Myer and was at the giveaway, confirms those details (though Bonds disputes Brizill's account that Bonds threatened to take turkeys away from anyone who failed to sign her nominating petition for the vacant at-large seat). Bonds also provides these additional details:

  • Orange approached Fort Myer to pay for the turkeys.
  • Orange's office was responsible for determining who received the turkeys.
  • The cost of the turkeys was in the thousands of dollars.
  • There's nothing wrong with a company giving needy people Thanksgiving turkeys: "As far as we're concerned it's a good thing."

On that last point, LL is sure everyone agrees. But where things get sticky is whether these kind of city-contractor-sponsored turkey giveaways violate restrictions on giving to local pols for charitable purposes. Councilmembers have constituent service funds, from which they can raise money from donors to spend on charitable things, like turkey giveaways. As it happens, Mayor Vince Gray, who hosted several turkey giveaways last week, paid for the turkeys from his constituent service fund, according to a spokesman.

But donations to constituent service funds are capped at $500, far less than what Bonds says Fort Myer paid for the turkeys given away at Orange's shindig. Bonds says the turkeys wouldn't need to be listed as donations to Orange's constituent service account because Fort Myer was donating directly to needy families, albeit with an assist from Orange. Barry says an undisclosed nonprofit is the recipient of corporate giving (the donors of his turkeys also include Fort Myer), an arrangement that keeps his constituent service fund out of the turkey giveaway.

But what's the point of having reporting requirements and donation limits on constituent service funds if they can be so easily sidestepped? The turkey giveaways are clearly good P.R. for the councilmembers whose names are attached to the events. And as a major District road builder, Fort Myer has a vested interest in having as many friends on the D.C. Council as possible.

"It does seem that the at least the spirit of the limitations is an issue," says Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh. "You have to account for your money. You have to account for the money going in, you have to account for the money going out."

Wesley Williams, a spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance, says only that his agency is "monitoring the situation" when it comes to Orange's turkey giveaway.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Boardwalk

    It's a shame that the best news that WaPo and Loose Lips can put together is that two councilmembers are making a way for underpriviledged families to be able to have a good Thanksgiving dinner.

    For Dorthy Brazil to claim Orange & Barry are the most ethically challanged people on the council is quite baffling as HTJ & Kwame clearly were the ethically challenged rebels.

    Anita Bonds is sneaky and knows she has to appease the right people to get the best opportunity to lose (thats right to lose) and if the council can get a desperate person to donate Turkeys why not!

    Mary Cheh, Bowser, Tommy Wells, don't have to do Turkey Giveaways because they handling affluent neighborhoods, whereas the Turkeys are given out to the less fortunate.

    I only hope that Loose Lips and Dorothy Brizil are as passionate about Councilmembers who rip off taxpayers by working two jobs and giving a half ass performance on the council as they are about some damn Turkeys.

    Kudos CM Barry & Orange, you keep providing people something to be Thankful for during the holiday season!

  • Publius

    If there is nothing to hide here then why not be as forthcoming with disclosure as possible?

    And if Anita Bonds wouldn't give a turkey to someone who refused/failed to sign her At-Large petition, well that's DC politics at its finest right there.

    I used to work for the goverment (feds) and "monitoring the situation" is codeword for "we don't give a !@#$".

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  • http://www.twitter.com/klejdys Chris

    Boardwalk with the textbook comment on not seeing the forest from the trees. Well done sir/ma'am.

  • Lester

    Dorothy Brizill is a failed Council candidate who remains an unstable so-called journalist/watchdog. Her "reporting" continues to be opinionated, biased and flatout untruthful. After being cited numerous times for numerous health and safety issues regarding her house, tragically, it burnt to the ground. If you've ever seen an episode of Hoarders, you will understand why it went up in flames like it did.

    Following the fire many powerful DC politico types solicited many many thousands to help the two recoup becuase it was the right thing to do. Was a non-profit formed to collect these funds? Will we ever see a list of the donors? Will the IRS or DC OTR ever know about it? Which elected officials gave to curry favor? Who knows? Will the press ever release those details? Don't bet on it but do bet on the fact that Dorothy wants to know who paid for 300 turkeys given to needy families.

  • noodlez

    @BOARD-GREAT POINT!

    YO SEWERMAN YOU'RE RUINING A GOOD THING BY TRYING TO MAKE NEWS. THIS WOULD BE A MUCH BETTER READ IF YOU CAME UP WITH SOLUTIONS TO HELP FOLK DURING THAT TIME OF YEAR INSTEAD OF POINTING OUT PROBLEMS.

    IT GOES ON ALL OVER THE COUNTRY DURING THIS TIME OF YEAR.
    I TRULY BELIEVE WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY AND A DUTY AS CITIZENS TO MAKE SURE FOLK ARE NOT LEFT OUT IF THEY CHOOSE TO CELEBRATE THANKSGIVING OR CHRISTMAS.

    WHEN IS THE WASH CITY PAPER CHRISTMAS HAM GIVE AWAY?
    DO DC RESIDENTS NEED PHOTO I.D.?
    ARE THEY PRE-GLAZED HAMS?

  • nowaitadaminit

    @Lester #3: AND LET THE CHURCH SAY AMEN!!!!

    Matter of fact, I made a small donation to Ms. Brizil peronally. Didn't care whether or not it was reported.
    She wouldn't know me from a hole in the ground, but like you say: It was the right thing to do. Experiencing a house fire is devastating: both financially and (even more so), emotionally. It will be a long time before the Imhoff's recover from that experience, if ever.

  • Scotch

    It's funny listening to Mary Cheh and the Office of Campaign Finance. Neither will do anything about these shenanigans.

    Hey noodlez - you gonna be at the City Paper holiday party again this year?

  • DCGovcorruption

    I doubt that the two turkey give aways by Councilmembers Barry and Orange exceed the salary of $250,000 that Councilmember Catania receives from DC contractor MC Dean each year. So, move along and do some real work folks.

  • D-uh!

    It's not about the turkeys! It's about companies buying off council members. (Good thing for the company's that our council members are so cheap and easy to buy!)
    Fort Meyer will overbid on some contract next year, mysteriously be declared the only responsive bidder and make back the chump change they spent on turkeys 10x or 100x over.
    Are you guys really that blind?

  • joan

    A Turkey here a Turkey there we have Turkeys everywhere !

  • arm320

    This city has way bigger problems than this. Who cares?

  • truth hurts

    @ D-uh!

    Yes, they are.

  • noodlez

    @DUH-SO YOU THINK CONTRACTORS ARE BUYING TURKEYS, WHICH I'M SURE THEY PURCHASED AT A WHOLESALE BULK PRICE, TO BUY OFF COUNCIL MEMBERS TO WIN CONTRACTS? CHILD PLEEZE!

    SOMEONE CORRECT ME IF IM WRONG AND I'M NO TAX EXPERT BUT I'M SURE THEY CAN LIST GIVE AWAY AS A CHARITABLE DEDUCTION OR SOME SORT OF TAX WRITE OFF.

    THIS IS SMALL POTATOES IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS AND IF THEY ARE THAT PETTY TO BASE THEIR COMPANIES FUTURE ON A TURKEY DRIVE THINKING THIS WILL WIN THEIR FIRM A CONTRACT IN A BIDDING CONTEST, WHEN IF I'M NOT MISTAKEN EVERY CONTRACT OVER A MIL IS SUPPOSED TO GET THE COMMITTEE AS A WHOLE APPROVAL AND WITH THE PASSING OF THE TWO INITIATIVES REGARDING CRIME AND HOLDING COUNCIL SEATS, THE COUNCIL MEMBERS ARE EITHER DAMN FOOLS OR YOU ARE WORSE THAN LL LOOKING FOR SOMETHING THAT ISNT THERE.

    YO SEWERMAN HERE IS A QUESTION FOR THE ANSWERS ISSUE: DID FAGGIE FENTY DIG INTO HIS CONSTITUENT FUND TO BUY TURKEYS FOR HIS CONSTITUENCY DURING HIS TIME AS WARD 4 CM OR MAYOR?

    @SCOTCH-I'LL BE THERE IF THE EVIL GENIUS MAD MIKE SENDS ME AN INVITE AND I DON’T WIN THE $500 MIL.

  • Truth hurts

    Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but CP -- in a break from tradition -- isn't having a Holiday party this year. Dumb move.

  • Mike Madden

    @ Scotch and noodlez:

    Unfortunately, because we're going to be moving out of our offices right after New Year's, we're going to have to postpone our holiday party and make it a move-in party for our new digs, sometime later in 2013.

  • http://stracuzziforcongress.wordpress.com/ Natale Lino Stracuzzi

    Should it the Office of Campaign Finance Investegate if Chairman Anita Bonds did threatened to take turkeys away from anyone who failed to sign her nominating petition. The Office of Campaign Finance should interview all those people that sign her nominating petition on that day.

  • http://stracuzziforcongress.wordpress.com/ Natale Lino Stracuzzi

    First of all the storie was on Anita Bonds and the company she is working for. Not on Vincent Orange...Then, that she was threatening people to sign her nominating petition or she wouldn't give them a turkey. So is that how she payoff our working poor? Why didn't any one talk about Jim Gram's Turkey give away? Why were the stories only on Vincent Orange and Marion Barry? Did not read any think on Jim Gram turkey give away.

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