WHEN QUESTIONS were first raised about a nonprofit group he operated, D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) said he had nothing to hide. So proud was he of what he calls his "life's work," Mr. Thomas promised to disclose who contributed to the group and how the money was spent. That was three months ago, and what has emerged - sparse details begrudgingly produced under subpoena by Mr. Thomas and revelations from the media - underscore the need of a full accounting of his activities.
Team Thomas is the group Mr. Thomas founded in 2000 ostensibly as a vehicle to help youth. Little was known about it until Mr. Thomas's opponent in the November election accused him of running a "slush fund" and challenged him to document its finances. The group has never qualified as a tax-exempt organization with the Internal Revenue Service, and its registration with the D.C. government has been revoked. Even more worrisome was the series of misstatements from Mr. Thomas about the group. His claims that the group became dormant when he joined the council and that there was no intersection with council business were belied by the disclosure that he raised more than $200,000 while he was on the council. Then came the revelation that he used a staff member to solicit and receive donations and the fact - never disclosed by Mr. Thomas - that companies with business before the council or with the city made donations.
We have disclosed three such instances; now comes a report from the Washington Times of a donation of an unspecified amount from the developer who located a strip club in Mr. Thomas's ward even as community groups said the council member ignored their concerns. Meanwhile, the City Paper's Loose Lips column has uncovered interesting details about the operations of another questionable entity founded by Mr. Thomas, a domestic limited liability company called HLT Team Thomas/SwingAway LLC, which does business as HLT Development. Readers of this page will recall this as the group that in 2008 was the original owner of a $58,600 Audi that a year later was re-registered to Mr. Thomas. The group, according to the City Paper, split its time among giving free and expensive baseball lessons, contracting with the city parks department and providing catering, consulting and other services to Mr. Thomas's political campaigns. Among the curiosities is how the group received $75,000 in city contracts before it was registered in 2004. City Paper asks if part of the problem might not be the "lack of distinction" between the for-profit and nonprofit Thomas entities. It's a good question.
Mr. Thomas has refused to comment, referring questions to his attorney as "a legal matter." Frederick Cooke Jr., his attorney, said it's not appropriate to answer questions or provide information during an investigation. He was referring to an inquiry by the D.C. attorney general's office. Acting Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan doesn't comment on matters under investigation, but we have been told that an announcement or action will be forthcoming at the probe's conclusion. That's good, but even better would be Mr. Thomas fulfilling his initial promise: Let the sunshine in.