- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2012

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh is set to introduce legislation on Tuesday that puts contributions in the form of a money order on par with cash, capping them at $25 to avoid the suspicions and federal inquiries that shook the D.C. campaign process last week.

Ms. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, directed her staff to craft the legislation shortly after the U.S. attorney sent a series of subpoenas to the campaigns of at least six council members as part of a probe into one of the city’s most prolific political donors.

Nelson Ayala, a campaign treasurer for D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said on Friday he had already complied with a subpoena that federal prosecutors sent on Wednesday requesting documents relating to Mr. Graham’s campaign funding from 2005 to 2010.

The number of council members linked to the federal review of contributions from Jeffery E. Thompson, his companies and his associates grew throughout the week, after reports of the subpoenas surfaced on Tuesday. Mr. Thompson, an accountant who holds a lucrative managed-care contract with the city known as D.C. Chartered Health Plan, is renowned for his ability to raise cash for local politicians, although there are questions about the timing and form of certain donations. No one has been accused of any crimes.

Although federal investigators have not disclosed what they are looking for, discussion around city hall suggests the use of money orders - which could be used to shroud straw donors to various campaigns - may be their focus.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, a Democrat, and council members Michael A. Brown, at-large independent; Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat; Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat; and Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, are the other officials whose campaigns have confirmed receipt of a subpoena.

Other elected officials say their campaigns have not been served, while some - such as council members Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, and Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat - have declined to confirm or deny receipt.

The subpoenas have been issued on a rolling basis since Tuesday, suggesting any council member who has received money from Mr. Thompson or his affiliates will receive one.

Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, has said he does not expect to receive a subpoena because he never accepted campaign funds from Mr. Thompson’s fundraising network.

Ms. Cheh initially floated an outright ban on money-order donations, but added that limitations on their dollar amount could be an acceptable alternative.

“All this would be is an introduction,” she said.

Ms. Cheh’s legislation comports with the law in other states. Massachusetts, for instance, decided in 1995 that political contributions made by money order could not exceed $50, the same cap it imposed on cash donations. A donation of more than $50 would have to be made by personal check.

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