TODAY IS JUNE 14, 2011 — DAY 164 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION
Let’s take a break from ethical matters this morning, and deal with some old-fashioned budgetary minutiae. The D.C. Council will take its final vote on budget legislation at 1 p.m., and an income tax increase is still a very real possibility. An amendment offered by Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) would nix a tax approved last month on non-District municipal bonds currently held by city residents, paying for it by creating a tax bracket on those earning $400,000 and up. It would sunset after four years, and Cheh says she’ll only move that amendment if a competing amendment from Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) — which also eliminates the bond tax, but with anticipated revenue — fails. But now Chairman Kwame Brown (D) is faced with a final test of his income-tax-killing mettle, thanks to his chairman pro tempore. Also, about those anticipated revenues: Last month, the council voted to put police hiring first on the priority list. But the new bill, Michael Neibauer reports at WBJ, has about $45 million in Medicaid spending jumping the line before that. His colleague Ben Fischer explains why all that new money is necessary — in part, to keep the city’s public health-care system functioning. More from the Examiner and the Washington Times.
AFTER THE JUMP — Ethics bill slammed in hearing — Kwame Brown’s brother had control of campaign ‘side account’ — Team Thomas and its donors: What did they get in return? — Mayoral hiring hearings over; Sulaimania now on hiatus
*** MAIN COURSE ***
A ‘FLAWED’ ETHICS BILL — Various noted personages lined up yesterday to take whacks at the Kwame Brown/Mary Cheh ethics bill — not least of them Attorney General Irvin Nathan, who has been riding high of late. From my Post story: “Nathan testified in a public hearing that it would create a ‘competing bureaucratic upstart’ that would frustrate his own office’s efforts to root out public corruption. Comments from Nathan and other witnesses are likely to complicate the District government’s efforts to respond to an unprecedented array of city hall scandals. ... ‘A new bureaucracy is not the answer to the District’s ethics problems,’ Nathan said. Instead, he said, his own office needed more ‘powers, resources and respect’ — in particular, expanded subpoena authority for ethics probes.” Cheh said yesterday that no bill would move before summer recess. Also WaTimes, WUSA-TV, WRC-TV, WTTG-TV, WAMU-FM, DCist.
WATCH — WUSA-TV’s Bruce Johnson finds tape of him asking Graham, after Ted Loza was arrested, whether he’s ever been offered a bribe. Said Graham, “I’m not going to comment on that at this point.”
KWAME CAMPAIGN ALLEGATIONS — The other news of the day: The complaint filed Friday against Kwame Brown’s campaign contains a couple of nuggets. First, it mentions a possible referral to the U.S. attorney’s office, without making any specific finding of potential criminal wrongdoing. Bottom line, Freeman Klopott explains, is that if the nondisclosure was “willful,” it could be a criminal violation. Second, as I noted in my ethics bill story, the complaint “amplified questions about the campaign’s ties to relatives of Brown” with the revelation that Che Brown, Kwame’s brother, “had control of a $60,000 ‘side account’ that was not initially disclosed to authorities.” Also the Examiner, Loose Lips. Read the complaint.
MORE HTJ HEAT — Some questions about Team Thomas haven’t been answered by Nathan’s lawsuit, and The Post editorial board points to one in particular: What did charity donors get in return for their donations to Harry Thomas Jr.’s charity? Nathan says he found no evidence of quid pro quos, but the editorial thinks the question deserves further scrutiny. “[T]here is a disturbing nexus between those making contributions and those having interests before the city. ... Most striking were contributions in 2008 from two firms that had a big stake in the council’s decision on the city’s new lottery contract. Lottery Technology Enterprises (LTE), a longtime operator of the lottery, and its public relations firm, Walker Marchant Group LLC, contributed a total of $4,500 to Team Thomas in May 2008. Ann Walker Marchant told us the contributions were unrelated to the council’s deliberations and were the result of a long-standing friendship with Mr. Thomas. Yet Mr. Thomas voted with a majority of the council in December 2008 to reject a contract with a new lottery firm that would have replaced LTE — a decision that resulted in many more months of business for LTE.” In the Washington Times, Jim McElhatton takes a broader look at how Thomas could legally solicit contributions to his nonprofit from businesses with matters before the council without disclosing them. “If Mr. Thomas hadn’t been sued ... nobody would have known that companies doing business with the D.C. government were donating to a lawmaker’s pet charity. By contrast, in the federal government, donations from lobbyists or their clients to lawmakers’ charities are public and searchable online. ‘What went on with Harry Thomas is simply part of the influence game,’ said Craig Holman, legislative representative for the D.C.-based watchdog group Public Citizen. ‘The donors are throwing money at the feet of lawmakers. In most cases, the donations aren’t about charity. They’re not about helping children. It’s all about influence.’ ”
SHOW US YOUR MONEY — Harry Jaffe’s prescription for ethics reform: Make all the bums show us their tax returns, he writes in his Examiner column. “Senators and congressmen are required to file complex financial disclosure documents. Some go farther. Every year the president of the United States shows us his federal tax returns. They reveal how much money he made in salary from the U.S. Treasury, any profits or losses he might have taken from investments, the cost of child care and such. Norton volunteers her tax returns, her office tells me. ... As I read the proposed new ethics reform law and listened to Monday’s testimony, I wondered why our brave political leaders couldn’t cut to the chase, keep it simple and do what the president does: make their tax returns public. Mayor Vince Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown talk transparency. Why not walk the walk and open up tax returns for public inspection?”
NO MORE HEARINGS — The D.C. Council’s string of high-profile hearings into Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s early hires appears to be over after a judge rejected Mary Cheh’s effort to overrule Peyton Brooks’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights. Klopott relays a memo from Cheh: “Judge [Curtis Von Kann] interviewed [Peyton] Brooks and determined he indeed has Fifth Amendment privilege claim regarding his involvement with the mayoral election. ... The court has also held that Mr. Brooks’ Fifth Amendment privilege claim is so broad that it would likely extend to any question related to the process by which Mr. Brooks was hired and later separated from the District government.” With that, the public portion of the probe nears a close. WaTimes’ Tom Howell crunches the numbers: “The Committee on Government Operations and the Environment heard 26 hours of testimony from 19 witnesses in several hearings on the Gray team’s hires to the ‘excepted service,’ or political appointees who serve at the will of the mayor.” Also AP.
WHERE POLITICOS SCHOOL THEIR KIDS — Writing at GGW, Steven Glazerman has a thinky piece about the evergreen media reports about where elected officials send their kids to school (most recently in the Examiner). “Should we care?” he asks. His thought: “If they apply like anyone else and play by the rules, then they have a private duty to find the best school for their children, even while they work publicly to improve all schools for all children. If every parent tried to enroll their children in Lafayette or Oyster, then it would provide a useful signal that those schools may need to be expanded, or that those schools’ successful programs be replicated elsewhere.”
*** SMALL PLATES ***
Former police commander accuses Cathy Lanier of “whitening” the MPD — but no statistics (City Desk)
Eleanor Holmes Norton turned 74 yesterday (DCist)
ANC’s report knocks Georgia Avenue Wal-Mart, suggests Metro shuttle, delivery service (the Examiner)
Phil Mendelson on NewsTalk — watch him go off on taxi medallions (”a form of corporate welfare”) at 49:40! (TBD)
Sinclair Skinner ally now wants to recall Kwame Brown, Jim Graham, Michael Brown (WJLA-TV)
Capital Pride parade roll call; Catania, Graham, Mendelson, Kwame Brown, Michael Brown, Orange, Evans, Cheh, Bowser, Wells (Blade)
Covington’s Thomas Williamson Jr. is your next D.C. Bar president (Legal Times)
In anticipation of groundbreaking, three Skyland businesses get walking papers (WBJ)
Show off your D.C. flag tattoo tonight (DCist)
*** ON THE MENU ***
Gray dedicates Washington Kastles stadium, 800 Water St. SW; appears at Options Public Charter School graduation, Atlas Theatre, 1333 H St. NE; holds “community conversation,” 6 p.m. in JAWB 412 — D.C. Council legislative meeting, 1 p.m. in JAWB 500