“THE ORIGINAL allegations asked about monies coming to me that would influence the process. That clearly was never outlined in the report . . . But no one focuses on that.” So said D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) as he defended himself against charges that he used money intended for the city’s youth for his personal and political benefit. We are glad to focus attention on this issue, and — as has often been the case with Mr. Thomas — the facts differ from his explanations.
Let’s start with Mr. Thomas’s rather remarkable suggestion — offered during last week’s interview on Fox 5 News in which he denied any wrongdoing — that the D.C. attorney general’s report cleared him of the original allegations. The accusation by Republican challenger Tim Day last fall was that he was raising money for a “slush fund” that was not registered with the IRS and was not in good standing with the D.C. government. The 27-page civil action filed by Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan pretty much confirms Mr. Day’s hunch, in addition to coming to the even more explosive conclusion that Mr. Thomas used his council office to send more than $300,000 in city funds to a private group (the Langston 21st Century Foundation) that ended up kicking back funds to him via two organizations under his sole control.
As to the issue of contributions influencing the governing process, Mr. Nathan told reporters that his investigation produced no evidence of a quid pro quo. But there is a disturbing nexus between those making contributions and those having interests before the city. We previously detailed an instance in which Mr. Thomas supported legislation in 2008 and sponsored a measure in 2010 that benefited a contributor to Team Thomas, Rhode Island Avenue Metro LLC, without disclosing the donation. The attorney general’s investigation unearthed some 40 companies forking over amounts ranging from $1,000 to, in one case, $10,000 (Comcast). Many do business with the city or have interests before the council.
Most striking were contributions in 2008 from two firms that had a big stake in the council’s decision on the city’s new lottery contract. Lottery Technology Enterprises (LTE), a longtime operator of the lottery, and its public relations firm, Walker Marchant Group LLC, contributed a total of $4,500 to Team Thomas in May 2008. Ann Walker Marchant told us the contributions were unrelated to the council’s deliberations and were the result of a longstanding friendship with Mr. Thomas. Yet Mr. Thomas voted with a majority of the council in December 2008 to reject a contract with a new lottery firm that would have replaced LTE — a decision that resulted in many more months of business for LTE.
Instead of putting to rest concerns about the nature of these contributions, the attorney general’s findings only pose more questions, which we hope the U.S. Attorney will answer as it conducts its own investigation into Mr. Thomas’s activities.