How the Game Gets Played in D.C.
John Ray, a former D.C. Council member and unsuccessful mayoral candidate several times over, has done quite well for himself since leaving public office. Truth is, the distance isn't all that great between his current pursuits in private life and his former place of employment. It might be said that they are closer than two pages in a book.
Ray works as a lawyer and lobbyist with his associate, Tina Ang, in the firm Manatt, Phelps and Phillips on behalf of various special interests. That endeavor keeps him in close contact with his former city hall colleagues and the mayor's office -- which helps to explain why Ray, his work and his future endeavors are the subject of today's musing.
First, allow a point to be made for the record.
Lobbying, Jack Abramoff notwithstanding, is a respectable occupation. Petitioning one's government is a constitutionally protected activity, an essential function of our democracy, and a pursuit that most lobbyists perform with care and professionalism on behalf of legitimate interests.
Thus, when baseball team owners decided to enter into negotiations with the District on the relocation of the Montreal Expos to the nation's capital, executives in the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball at 245 Park Ave. in New York looked down on Washington and hired Ray to help communicate their interests and desires to politicians in the District. And, according to Ray's lobbyist activity reports, baseball paid rather handsomely for his services, shelling out $17,929 for lobbying performed between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2005, and $44,143 in connection with lobbying activities in the second half of the year.
Baseball wasn't alone.
When Greater Southeast Community Hospital had a matter that needed the city's attention in 2005, it hired Ray. 'Tis true, the hospital was on hard times. But it still scraped together enough coins to pay Ray, based on his hourly rate, $3,543 to contact seven D.C. officials, including the head of the D.C. Health Department and D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large). So did D.C. Chartered Health Plan Inc. when it had some contract and policy problems with the District. Ray is one of the go-to guys for companies with procurement problems, zoning issues and building interests. Clients from near and far seek him out.
For instance, offshore gambling interests took a shine to the District and had a lusty desire to get into the pocketbooks of area residents. To gain a foothold, they hired Ray to steer them through the steps necessary to construct a gambling palace with 3,500 slot machines on a 14-acre site in Northeast Washington. That venture, however, didn't turn out so well. Despite spending $2 million to bring in the slots, the promoters ended up with a fine of $622,880 levied against them by D.C. elections officials because, the watchdogs said, the petition drive launched to put the gambling scheme on the ballot was riddled with fraud, forgery and other shenanigans. Can't win 'em all.
But a quick look at Ray's lobbyist activity reports will reveal why interests sign up with him. He's got access.
On the subject of baseball alone, Ray or his associate had oral or written communication with Ward 5 D.C. Council member Vincent Orange at least 20 times between July 1 and Dec. 30 last year. Ray and Ward 2 council member Jack Evans, who chaired the committee overseeing the baseball deal, got together 10 times during the same period, according to Ray's report.
Taking the case of D.C. Chartered Health Plan, for which Ray collected $14,055 in fees or retainers between Jan. 1 and June 30 of last year, the lobbyists reached out and touched Ward 7 council member Vincent Gray (four times); Orange (four times); Catania (three times); Evans; council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large); council Chairman Linda Cropp (D); Marion Barry (D-Ward 8); and, according to Ray's report, "the Health Department."
Now, pray tell, how many cash-starved D.C. nonprofits in need of a lawmaker's attention can get that kind of access?