When the lines of policy and money intersect, the common point can end up at politics. A case in point:
Last fall, The Post published a series of investigative reports that exposed a one-sided and exploitive operation against poor and unsuspecting citizens by the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue. That office, supervised by then-chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi, allowed vultures, some posing as private debt collectors, to prey on homeowners — some delinquent in paying their property taxes, some made delinquent by city errors.
The Post reported that the predatory system of debt collection used legal fees and interest to turn $500 in late payments into $5,000 debts. That odious practice allowed investors to foreclose on nearly 200 houses since 2005. At the time of the report, lien holders were in the process of seeking control of 1,200 more houses.
The Post’s reports were received with predictable bluster. Mayor Vincent C. Gray reacted with “anger and outrage.” D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the finance and revenue committee, which oversees the chief financial officer and the tax office, said he was “outraged.”
Gray and Gandhi jointly announced a halt to the sale of tax liens, and Evans held hearings. The council member, who subsequently announced his campaign to become mayor, soon introduced emergency legislation that froze the sale of liens involving seniors, veterans and people with disabilities. The finance and revenue committee hopes to mark up permanent reform legislation this week.
While the public furor over the tax-lien fiasco died down, tax liens were never not out of mind.
On Jan. 27, Don Dinan, a District attorney who chairs Evans’s mayoral campaign, sent an e-mail at 10:34 a.m. to an attorney who, according to his Web site, handles “numerous” Maryland and DC tax lien foreclosures on behalf of individual investors.
Dinan wrote: “As you may know, I am Chair to the Evan’s [sic] campaign. I’d like to set up a fundraiser for jack among the tax lien folk. What do you think. Don.”
The attorney, whose name I am withholding, replied within an hour, saying in part: “I have a reform proposal I’d like to submit to OTR [The office of Tax and Revenue]. … Can I send it to you to review with [name withheld].”
At 11:44 a.m., Dinan wrote back: “Yes, I would be happy to review.”
At 1:21 p.m., the attorney answered: “Ok. I’ll have it for you by the end of the day tomorrow.”
The next day, the attorney wrote Dinan at 5:36 p.m.: “Don, Please see attached. My proposal (which has flaws) is intended to produce one main objective: to allow our clients who buy [tax liens] here to succeed so they can keep coming back each year. My remaining DC clients have narrow profit margins. Most have already left DC because it is too hard to make money with OTR.”
I spoke with Dinan on Friday about the e-mails. He said he had been assisting Evans and his staff on tax-lien reform legislation and confirmed that the e-mail exchanges with the attorney had taken place. However, the fundraiser “among the tax lien folk” on Evans’s behalf did not take place.
“They never went forward. We never pursued it,” Dinan said.
In an interview today, Evans said he was unaware that his campaign chairman had tried to arrange such a fundraiser. He also said he was unfamiliar with the name of the lawyer who discussed with Dinan ideas about tax-lien reform legislation.
So no harm, no foul, in the sense of tax-lien money landing in the campaign coffers of the legislator steering tax-lien reform legislation.
That intersection did not occur. But not for want of trying.