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Campaign inquiry turns focus to D.C. transportation firm
Rapid Trans gives to city politicians
The federal investigation into widespread D.C. campaign-finance irregularities has moved beyond lawmakers and prominent donors to include a little-known transportation company that doesn't seem to drive many passengers but has delivered campaign cash to city politicians.
One of the principals for Rapid Trans Services, Audrey Albert, declined to comment when contacted at her Maryland apartment Friday, saying, "I've got nothing to do with that." However, she confirmed receiving a subpoena when asked about the ongoing campaign-finance probe and referred questions to an attorney who did not return a message Friday.
The other name on Rapid Trans Services' incorporation papers is Jeanne Clarke Harris. She, too, has declined to comment after reports of a federal raid on her home and office on the same day federal agents searched the offices and home this month of prominent D.C. contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson.
Mr. Thompson and his companies have been prolific sources of campaign money for city politicians over the past decade while his health care plan, D.C. Chartered Health, won hundreds of millions of dollars in business from the District. The Thompson-owned company provides managed-care services to city Medicaid patients as well as other low-income residents enrolled in the city-funded D.C. Healthcare Alliance plan. He did not return phone messages left at his office last week.
Since the raid, city politicians have been scrambling to scour contributions from Mr. Thompson and his businesses, with several lawmakers receiving subpoenas and others declining to say. Also under scrutiny are donations from entities that have no clear ties to Mr. Thompson but appear to be part of the same fundraising network based on the pattern of giving.
For example, Mr. Thompson's name doesn't show up on Rapid Trans Services' business filings with the D.C. government, but the company started about the same time that a similarly named company he owned called RapidTrans Inc. voluntarily surrendered its authority to transport passengers in 2008. While RapidTrans Inc. later had its corporation status revoked for failure to meet filing requirements, the Thompson-owned company continued donating to city politicians.
So, too, did Rapid Trans Services, which is not licensed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission to carry passengers. Both Rapid Trans Services and RapidTrans have donated to city politicians for the maximum amount, often on the same day as other contributions from Mr. Thompson and his businesses, employees or associates.
There is no law against like-minded companies and people giving maximum campaign donations to the same candidates on the same day. Indeed, that happens almost every day in Washington as lobbyists host big-ticket fundraisers and bundle contributions for members of Congress in offices, town houses and bars across the District.
But contributions linked to Mr. Thompson raise questions for other reasons. For instance, D.C. law limits companies and their subsidiaries to a single contribution limit when giving to a candidate during an election cycle. But campaign filings show numerous instances in which Mr. Thompson's holding company, D.C. Healthcare Systems, and its business affiliates, including D.C. Chartered Health Plan and RapidTrans Inc., gave separate checks each for the maximum donation on the same day to politicians.
On Aug. 9, 2010, for instance, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown received separate $1,500 donations — the maximum allowed for a council chairman's race — from both RapidTrans Inc. and D.C. Healthcare Systems. Maximum donations came in on the same day from Rapid Trans Services, as well as from Ms. Albert, Ms. Harris, Mr. Thompson and his accounting firm, Thompson Cobb Bazilio & Associates.
Another big contributor that day to Mr. Brown was Belle International, which was founded by Ms. Harris and H. Marrel Foushee, who was a public works official in the Marion Barry administration. He now runs a tax and financial-management company on New York Avenue in Northwest Washington. He declined to comment when reached at his office Friday.
Ms. Harris and the three businesses she helped incorporate — Rapid Trans Services, Details International and Belle International — have been reliable sources of campaign cash for city politicians over the years, according to campaign filings. The Washington Post first reported the raid on Ms. Harris' home and office.
In another example — but hardly the only one involving city politicians — of how contributions from the Harris-tied companies aligned with Mr. Thompson's support, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson received maximum $1,000 donations on Sept. 13, 2010, from Details International, Belle International and Rapid Trans Services. On the same day, he also received maximum $1,000 donations from Mr. Thompson, D.C. Healthcare Systems and RapidTrans Inc.
When asked about donations he has received as a result of Mr. Thompson's fundraising, Mr. Mendelson said in a previous interview that he trusts donors to know the law when they contribute and noted that city campaign-finance regulators had not alerted him about any problems concerning donations.
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