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In the Loop

Thompson's Trading Spaces

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, September 22, 2004; Page A29

No matter who wins in November, there's bound to be a brand new bunch of Cabinet members in the next administration. And, traditionally, with that will come intense whining over the painful pay cuts and the extraordinary sacrifices by these splendid Americans are making to offer their skills in service to their country.

But why not stop this unseemly complaining? Why not follow the fine example set by departing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and make a few bucks on the side to supplement that paltry $175,000 yearly Cabinet secretary salary?

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Friday's Question:
It was not until the early 20th century that the Senate enacted rules allowing members to end filibusters and unlimited debate. How many votes were required to invoke cloture when the Senate first adopted the rule in 1917?
51
60
64
67


Thompson, judging from public records we've come across, appears to have been making some pin money flipping properties in Alexandria. When he first got here to run the largest government agency aside from the Pentagon -- and one that plays a critical role in defending the country from threats of biological or chemical attacks -- Thompson rented an apartment.

But he saved up his money, we're told, and two years ago, in mid-August 2002, he began buying two-bedroom, two-bath townhouses, mostly in the Cameron Station area. The first one was on Donovan Drive for $253,000. He sold it four months later for $295,000, grossing $42,000. He then bought another unit on Brenman Park Drive for $351,500 and sold it about nine months later for $394,000, this time grossing $42,500.

He then bought a place on Cameron Station Boulevard on Sept. 18, 2003, for $355,000 and sold it two months later, on Nov. 13, 2003, for $397,500, again picking up $42,500. The fourth property he bought, on Hunting Creek Drive, didn't turn out that well. He bought it on Nov. 17, 2003, for $442,000 and sold it in January for only $16,000 more.

Finally, in January, he bought another place on Donovan Drive, and he's held on to that, so far.

We checked his required financial disclosure forms to see if he's bought or sold any other properties, but he didn't list these or other local transactions.


Why? Because properties used only as private dwellings are deemed exempt from disclosure, and Thompson lived in all the units, moving from place to place every few months as he saw a bigger, better townhouse, his spokesman, Tony Jewell, said yesterday.

"The first place wasn't big," Jewell said, so Thompson "traded up. It's been a matter of simply moving into bigger places as he can afford them." Not that the former Wisconsin governor, who still has a valid Wisconsin real estate license, isn't savvy on these matters. After he bought his first, Jewell said, he "saw the strength" of the real estate market.

And Thompson's clearly willing to move at a moment's notice. For example, he lived in the Hunting Creek townhouse only about two weeks before putting it on the market. With his wife back home in Wisconsin, Thompson "didn't have much stuff out here," Jewell said.

Still, two weeks? Hardly time to get comfy.

It's unclear how much Thompson netted with each sale. One important factor in that would be the size of the commissions he paid his agent, Gary Chute. Asked if Thompson paid the seller's customary 6 percent, Jewell said "the deal is different each time," but the precise terms "are between them." Sounds like a "no."

President Bush boasts how home ownership is at historic highs. Of course it is, what with Thompson out there as a one-man ownership machine.

Judicious Use of a Mailing List

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wants its potential donors to know that the future makeup of the Senate could have dire repercussions for the Supreme Court. "More than just a president is likely to get inaugurated next year," reads a message on the envelope of the DSCC's latest fundraising letter, signed by agitator-in-chief James Carville. "Are you ready for Chief Justice Antonin Scalia?"

The DSCC has greatly expanded its direct mail list, a spokeswoman said.

Indeed, it has. Just the other day, Scalia reached into a stack of letters at his home in Northern Virginia -- and out popped the DSCC's appeal.

Laughing heartily as he recounted the incident to an audience at the right-of-center Ethics and Public Policy Center on Monday evening, Scalia seemed ready for a promotion.

But he chalked up the "in terrorem" ("scare-mongering" in Latin, more or less) letter to the deepening politicization of the judicial appointments process.

"Tell the justice I'm waiting for his check," Carville told our colleague Charles Lane yesterday. "After he gave them [his] vote, the least he could do is send us one check."


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