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Political contributor skirts limits of D.C. law
Contractor’s divisions multiply donations
Businesses owned for years by prominent D.C. contractor Jeffrey Thompson engaged in a pattern of political giving that appears to run afoul of city campaign finance law, combining to give twice and sometimes three times the maximum donation to city politicians in a single day, records show.
The contributions from Mr. Thompson’s D.C. Healthcare Systems and closely tied businesses — D.C. Chartered Health Plan, Chartered Family Health Center and RapidTrans — enriched the campaigns of city lawmakers at a time when Mr. Thompson’s company was winning hundreds of millions of dollars in D.C. government contracts.
On the day after Christmas 2006, for instance, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson’s campaign received three $1,000 checks — each the maximum allowed to an at-large candidate — from D.C. Healthcare Systems, RapidTrans and Chartered Family Health Center.
Under D.C. campaign finance law, a company and its subsidiaries are supposed to “share a single contribution limit,” meaning that a parent company and its businesses combined could give no more than $1,000 in an at-large race such as the one Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat, won in 2006.
Although giving the maximum donation to Mr. Mendelson, RapidTrans and Chartered Family Health Center were listed as being owned by the same holding company — Mr. Thompson’s D.C. Healthcare Systems, according to a 2007 report by city insurance regulators.
Mr. Mendelson’s campaign wasn’t the only one to benefit.
Records show D.C. Healthcare Systems and one or more of the affiliated companies gave maximum donations to the same candidates on the same day in more than a dozen local political campaigns.
The pattern of same-day maximum checks from entities joined in a common corporate structure troubles campaign-finance analyst Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.
“Based on this information, it appears that the contributions were in excess of the maximum allowable amount,” she said. “The whole reason for contributions limits is because of corruption or the appearance of corruption. There’s no great mystery that campaign contributions buy access and influence.”
Mr. Mendelson said he wasn’t aware of the ties among Chartered, RapidTrans and D.C. Healthcare Systems. He said donations were not flagged by campaign finance regulators, either. He also said he turned to Mr. Thompson for fundraising help after his 2006 election victory over a well-financed challenger that left his campaign in debt.
Mr. Mendelson said he trusts donors to be informed about the law and campaign finance regulators to alert him if something is amiss.
“I thought that they were different companies. It’s hard for a candidate to know the financial relationships between companies,” he said, adding that donors typically know the law and that “if they get caught, they’re the ones who are breaking the law.”
Multiple calls left for Mr. Thompson at his accounting office, Thompson Cobb Bazilio & Associates Inc., were not returned last week. Mr. Thompson’s political giving has come under sharp scrutiny since a federal raid on his home and offices this month.
On Aug. 10, 2006, D.C. Healthcare Systems, Chartered Family Health Center and RapidTrans each gave $1,500, the maximum donation allowed, to future Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s campaign for D.C. Council chairman. Gray spokeswoman Doxie McCoy declined to discuss any specific donations, but said Mr. Gray’s campaigns have been run with the “utmost integrity.”
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