Non-profit controlled by D.C. council member spent $200,000 in donations

By Mike DeBonis
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 10:32 PM

A nonprofit group controlled by D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. collected and spent more than $200,000 in donations while Thomas served as a legislator. The disclosure came Thursday after more than a month of wrangling with District authorities. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles is pressing Thomas for more information on the group's activities and donors.

Thomas (D-Ward 5) provided information about the nonprofit group while flanked by two prominent attorneys at a John A. Wilson Building news conference Tuesday - the deadline set three weeks ago by a Superior Court judge who ordered him to comply with a city subpoena concerning the group, called Team Thomas.

"This is a very sensitive issue," Thomas said. "My life's work is being questioned."

In the past three years, Team Thomas has raised $216,159, with the majority of the money - more than $188,000 - raised in 2008, according to the disclosure. The organization spent essentially all of its earnings during that period.

The funds, Thomas said, paid for youth programs teaching "swing sports" - baseball, golf and tennis - including camps, equipment and training material. Thomas also said he had taken sports-related trips with nonprofit funds, including to Atlanta, Florida and to a sporting-goods convention in Las Vegas.

Thomas did not offer a detailed accounting of the group's donations or its expenditures. An attorney for Thomas, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said the city's request did not require an itemized list. Another attorney, John Ray, said it would violate donors' rights to privacy to disclose their identities without approval.

But Nickles said he plans to issue another subpoena Wednesday ordering Thomas to deliver detailed fundraising reports, including a "dollar-for-dollar financial statement," by Monday.

"The tip of the iceberg has now been shown," Nickles said.

Among the unanswered questions is whether lobbyists or companies with interests in city government donated to the group.

At the news conference, Thomas played a video produced by Comcast depicting a 2007 event at Langston Golf Course in Thomas's ward. Among the persons interviewed praising the event are executives of Comcast, which is granted a cable television franchise by the city. One is David W. Wilmot, who is registered to lobby city hall for Comcast and other companies.

Thomas would not say Tuesday whether Comcast or Wilmot had given to Team Thomas.

Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for the national good-government organization Common Cause, said it is "not unheard of" for legislators to solicit funds for their own nonprofit groups. "These are often ways for outside interests to get closer, to buy access to electoral office," she said.

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