- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 11, 2011

Washington lobbyist-developer-parking services provider David W. Wilmot and D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, along with other city contractors, will co-host a fundraiser for council member Yvette M. Alexander on Monday night at the home of D.C. developer Pedro Alfonso.

The event comes just after the filing deadline for campaign finance disclosures and as the D.C. Council awaits a second vote on an ethics bill crafted by Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, that aims to reform pay-to-play politics.

But even with its stricter penalties for ethics violations, enhanced disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and limits on the use of constituent-service funds, the Bowser bill would not explicitly prohibit Mr. Wilmot from directly lobbying officials for whom he raises money — though Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, had advocated for such a prohibition but received little support.

The fundraiser for Ms. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, also comes on the heels of a fundraiser Mr. Wilmot held for Ms. Bowser, and as Mr. Wilmot’s client Wal-Mart seeks to build six stores in the District — two in Ms. Alexander’s ward and one in Ms. Bowser’s ward.

In recent weeks, Mr. Wilmot’s fundraising activities have benefited several council members who represent wards where Wal-Mart seeks to build — such as Ms. Alexander and Ms. Bowser — or who face either ethics questions or potential criminal prosecution.

Last week, he was clutching a yellow legal pad and pacing the halls of the John A. Wilson Building while the council held a hearing to discuss the fate of Harry Thomas Jr., whose home was searched recently for eight hours by FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents. Mr. Thomas has agreed to pay the city $300,000 he raised through a nonprofit group to promote athletic events for children and could be facing criminal charges in the coming weeks or months.

Mr. Wilmot reportedly helped the Ward 5 Democrat, where Wal-Mart is building a store, raise money for his legal defense team, which includes former council member John Ray, attorney Abbe Lowell and Mr. Wilmot’s business partner, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., another lobbyist with business before the city who frequently represents D.C. politicians.

It’s unclear the extent the Bowser bill, if passed, would require politicians to disclose the sources of such fundraising and also their fee arrangements with lawyers such as Mr. Wilmot and Mr. Cooke.

Mr. Wilmot and Mr. Cooke did not return calls or emails asking for comment.

Mr. Wilmot’s other fundraising activities of late have benefited council members with oversight of city business conducted by his clients and friends, while some of those friends also have shown sudden interest in Ms. Bowser.

In addition to the Sept. 13 fundraiser Mr. Wilmot hosted at his home in Northwest for Ms. Bowser, he also hosted a fundraiser at his home Nov. 29 for council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent and chairman of the Housing and Workforce Development Committee, which should have oversight over Wal-Mart’s job-creation efforts and wage and hour provisions.

Mr. Brown also is spearheading the District’s efforts to offer online poker, a first such effort in the nation, through the D.C. Lottery and has drawn criticism for not disclosing his ties to a law firm that has clients in the gambling industry.

At the Brown fundraiser, Maryland businessman Emmanuel Bailey, a friend of Mr. Brown’s and protege of Mr. Wilmot’s who controls 51 percent of a subcontracting entity that runs the lottery, stuck close by Mr. Wilmot’s side, according to people who attended the event.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bailey, a golfing partner of Mr. Wilmot‘s, and his various business partners and family members also contributed generously in recent months to Ms. Bowser’s re-election campaign, as have Mr. Wilmot and his associates.

Monday’s fundraiser is not the first time that Mr. Wilmot has come to the aid of Ms. Alexander, who is opposed by an influential coalition of residents in her ward.

He represented her this year when the Office of Campaign Finance investigated complaints of misuse of constituent-service funds. Neither Mr. Wilmot nor Ms. Alexander would disclose terms of the legal representation.

With Mr. Wilmot raising money for and providing legal support to council members who represent three of the four wards where Wal-Mart seeks to build stores — Wards 4, 5 and 7 — only Mr. Wells of Ward 6 does not appear to be on Mr. Wilmot’s Christmas list. As The Washington Times recently reported, though, Mr. Wilmot does hold a development interest in the Ward 6 parcel where a Wal-Mart will go someday, having land-banked the property for decades and rented it out to the Government Printing Office as a parking lot for the past 18 years.

On Sunday, Mr. Wells said the Bowser bill doesn’t go far enough toward curbing routinely exploited loopholes and conflicts of interest. He cited laws in states such as Connecticut that prohibit city contractors from political fundraising on behalf of the officials whose votes and support they seek.

“We don’t have that many elected officials and we have a $10 billion budget, so there’s a lot of opportunity for influence,” Mr. Wells said. “So if you’re a lobbyist or a contractor who engages in political fundraising, you make money by selling influence. It’s the definition of pay to play.”