A spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance said because the lawyer, David W. Wilmot, is representing the campaign and not Alexander personally, it is a campaign expense that must be reported. And it doesn’t matter whether the campaign or Alexander herself cuts the check; the spokesman, Wesley Williams, said Alexander would have to report the payment as a contribution to the campaign if it came out of her own pocket.
This is important, you’ll recall, because the city’s new ethics law bars a lobbyist from providing legal representation to officials at a lower rate than he or she would “routinely bill” in the private marketplace. Wilmot is one of the John A. Wilson Building’s top-billing lobbyists, representing among other interests Wal-Mart, which is looking to place a store in Alexander’s ward.
Alexander had maintained Wednesday she was under no obligation to disclose her payments to Wilmot because she planned to pay him directly, not out of campaign funds — raising the prospect that the new ethics stricture will be nigh on unenforceable.
On Friday, Alexander said Wilmot has advised her that the payment would have to be disclosed. She again declined to say what rate she’ll be paying, saying that her campaign manager was handling the matter.
There is a potential loophole in the ethics law, however: Lobbyists are barred from providing cut-rate legal work only to “an official in the legislative or executive branch, or to a member of his or her staff” — it does not mention their election campaigns.
Another opportunity for wiggle room: What is Wilmot’s “routine” rate? As he told me this week, his firm has a variety of rates for various types of clients — including a “friends and family” rate. Asked if she’s getting that rate, Alexander chuckled and said, “I hope! I hope he doesn’t up the rate on me!”
For the purposes of comparison, the Laffey Matrix — used by the federal courts to determine reasonable attorney rates in litigation fee calculations — pegs the rate for a D.C. lawyer of Wilmot’s experience (he was admitted to the District bar in 1975) at $495 per hour. He’s spent at least four hours to date in Board of Elections and Ethics proceedings pertaining to Alexander’s ballot petitions, to say nothing of the preparation for those appearances and previous counsel he might have given the Alexander campaign, meaning his bill might take quite a chunk out of Alexander’s wallet or the $41,281 in her campaign coffers.