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Hollywood cash finds its way to D.C. campaigns
Giving aligns with contractor’s
Question of the Day
On the same day last year that employees of D.C. contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson gave big credit card donations to D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange, so too did a Hollywood producer and his company 3,000 miles away.
The donations from producer Proteus Spann and his business reveal more than Mr. Spann's interest in Washington's local politics, but an example of the sort of big-money donations flowing from Hollywood-area ZIP codes to D.C. candidates in ways that align with Mr. Thompson's interests.
The offices of the city's biggest contractor and political contributor were raided by federal authorities this month, prompting city lawmakers to scour donations received from Mr. Thompson and his businesses and from people and entities that gave maximum amounts on the same days.
Overall, Los Angeles donors have given at least $100,000 to D.C. candidates since 2008, with many of the biggest donors giving on the same day to the same candidate and in the same amount as Mr. Thompson, his employees or businesses, records show.
Mr. Orange, for instance, received more than two dozen credit card donations on March 10, 2011, for $1,000 each, the maximum allowed in an at-large race.
The credit card donations came from a varied lot of sources, ranging from Mr. Spann to a hotel concierge in Miami to an NFL player in Seattle and employees at Mr. Thompson's health care and accounting firms.
Few of the California donors would speak about why they showed such generosity for a candidate so far away, but Mr. Spann said the money listed on D.C. campaign disclosures came from him. He said his interest in D.C. politics was simple, noting that he lived in the area and one day plans to move back.
"I'm careful to follow the law," he said.
He said he knew Mr. Thompson as a fundraiser but he does not have a business relationship with him. City campaign finance records show Mr. Spann and his company have donated about $15,000 to city candidates over the years.
Mr. Spann declined to say whether he or his company had received a subpoena in connection with the ongoing federal investigation into Mr. Thompson and his fundraising.
Federal authorities have filed subpoenas to examine several lawmakers' campaign records relating to Mr. Thompson. The Washington Times also reported Monday that federal authorities had turned their attention to a Silver Spring woman, Audrey Albert, who has donated in ways similar to those of Mr. Thompson and his companies.
She is listed as principal of a company called Rapid Trans Services, which doesn't appear to be licensed to transport passengers, but which has been a generous donor to D.C. candidates often on days when entities tied to Mr. Thompson donated. Separately, D.C. records list Mr. Thompson as president of a defunct but similarly named company called RapidTrans Inc., which remained a big corporate donor even after having its incorporation status revoked.
While Mr. Spann confirmed that he was the source for donations under his name, other California donors weren't as willing to discuss their contributions.
Mark Withers, who lives in Long Beach, gave $1,000 to Mr. Orange. Initially, he said he hadn't contributed any money to the lawmaker, adding that he was annoyed that his name had turned up on contribution records.
Later, he emailed The Times to say that after checking his paperwork, he realized that he had donated to Mr. Orange's campaign in New York after all. He did not respond to a request to further discuss the donation.
Neither Mr. Orange nor Mr. Thompson's office returned messages, and a woman who answered the phone for Mr. Thompson's attorney said he was out of town.
Other credit card donations to Mr. Orange that day came from Kennard Cox, who played for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks last year.
Beverly Hills, Calif., also has been a source of West Coast cash for D.C. lawmakers. Mr. Orange's campaign reported receiving $1,000 from Thumai Ung. Inc., with donation records listing an address on the 300 block of South Doheny Drive. Address listings show the address as the location for a mailbox rental store.
The same address is listed for a $2,000 donation to Mayor Vincent C. Gray from a company called Mista Mista LLC, which is registered to Ms. Ung. She could not be reached for comment.
It's not illegal for people and companies to give money on the same day to the same candidates and in the same amounts. Nor is it illegal for fundraisers such as Mr. Thompson to host fundraisers and "bundle" contributions, collect them and turn them over to candidates or their campaigns.
But Mr. Thompson's contributions have raised concerns about the use of money orders to give to candidates, as well as whether his health care holding company violated corporate campaign contributions.
D.C. law limits companies and their subsidiaries to a single-contribution limit when giving to a candidate during an election cycle.
But The Times reported last week that 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 to politicians each for the maximum donation on the same day.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Jim McElhatton is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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