The latest on Team Thomas

Monday, November 8, 2010

WHEN D.C. Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) was asked a few weeks ago about Team Thomas, a nonprofit he created in 2000 to help the city's youth, he said it had been dormant since he joined the council in 2007. That statement was belied first by a May 2008 news release from his office touting a golf tournament to benefit the group and then by evidence brought to our attention that at least two city businesses had donated to the organization in 2008. When we told Mr. Thomas that an employee of one of those businesses recalled being solicited for Team Thomas by an aide to Mr. Thomas, he told us we were either mistaken or making it up.

Last week we received copies of e-mails in which the aide, Victoria Leonard-Chambers, asks for a contribution. Stranger still, in a Feb. 8, 2008, letter, Mr. Thomas thanks the president of a local firm for a contribution that helped Team Thomas defray the cost of his "2007 Annual Report to Ward 5 Residents." Why was Team Thomas soliciting undisclosed contributions to publish a report extolling his work on the council? Mr. Thomas, who has denied any wrongdoing, did not return our phone calls asking about this. His attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., called back but did not provide an answer. The latest disclosure raises questions about the intersection between Team Thomas fundraising and campaign finance laws and reaffirms the need for Mr. Thomas to fully disclose Team Thomas's activities and finances.

In a January 2008 e-mail, Ms. Leonard-Chambers wrote to an official at Capitol Paving of D.C. Inc.: "Attached is the Annual Report I was telling you about . . . It would be great if Capitol Paving could contribute to defraying the cost of producing and mailing the report. . . . Team Thomas is about $2,600 short in pledges to pay for the cost of producing 15,000 copies and mailing the report to 10,000 Ward 5 households." Capitol Paving agreed to pay $2,600 and was advised by the aide to send a check "payable to Team Thomas" to her attention at Mr. Thomas's council office. A Capitol official has told us the company was glad to make a contribution because of the good work Mr. Thomas does in the community.

There is nothing wrong with council members updating their constituents with reports. But if public funds are used, council members legally must meet strict requirements on content and when they can mail the material. If campaign contributions or constituent service funds are used, members must regularly disclose donations and expenditures and stay within contribution limits. It's not clear how Mr. Thomas's apparent use of Team Thomas to bankroll his annual report dovetails with these requirements.

Since Team Thomas has come under scrutiny, Mr. Thomas has attacked the motives of those seeking information but also has promised to provide an accounting. The organization is now under investigation by the D.C. attorney general, and a judge has ordered Mr. Thomas to produce documents by Nov. 23.

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