- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

D.C. campaign-finance regulators were alerted long ago about potential violations involving big contributions to city politicians from businesses owned by D.C. contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson.

But they didn’t do anything to stop the flow of corporate contributions from Mr. Thompson’s intertwined health care holdings, which combined for twice and sometimes three times the maximum legal corporate donation to politicians in a single day, records show.

Under D.C. campaign-finance law, a parent company and its subsidiaries are limited to a single campaign donation to a politician per election. But city records show multiple instances where Mr. Thompson’s D.C. Healthcare Systems and one or more of its businesses separately gave checks for the maximum donation on the same day to the same city politicians.

In 2006, for instance, then-D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray accepted three $1,500 checks from D.C. Healthcare Systems, Chartered Family Health Center and RapidTrans Inc., each the maximum donation, in his race for D.C. Council chairman. City insurance filings show Mr. Thompson’s D.C. Healthcare Systems owned both the health center and RapidTrans at the time.

Such donations, which aren’t limited to Mr. Gray, have come under sharp scrutiny after a federal raid this month on the offices and home of Mr. Thompson, whose prolific fundraising for city politicians has coincided with the award of hundreds of millions of dollars in city contracts to his health plan and accounting firm over the years.

But the question surrounding donations from Mr. Thompson’s health care holdings isn’t a new one. Indeed, it came to the attention of the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance as far back as 2002, records show.

That summer, the office issued an “interpretive opinion” in response to a letter from D.C. resident Margaret Gentry, who asked about the “appropriate disposition of excessive contributions” to then-D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz’s 2000 campaign from D.C. Chartered Health Plan, Chartered Family Health Center and RapidTrans Inc.

All three entities were owned by Mr. Thompson’s D.C. Healthcare Systems, records show. And all three separately donated money that, when combined, exceeded corporate contribution limits.

In an official response, city campaign regulators told Ms. Gentry her letter presented an issue of how the campaign “may address the excessive contribution.”

The letter also quoted city campaign-finance law, stating a “corporation, its subsidiaries, and all political committees established, financed, maintained or controlled by the corporation and its subsidiaries share a single contribution limitation.” Based on the law, the letter said, “any excessive contribution must be returned to the donor.”

Still, for years, the money continued flowing into city campaigns, records show.

Wesley Williams, a spokesman for the city's campaign office, said Tuesday that the legal opinion’s thrust wasn’t that the companies were related, “but there may have been an excessive contribution specific to that particular committee.”

“Therefore, perhaps, there was no institutional knowledge established or maintained that these entities were possibly related,” he said. “Our database isn’t designed to track that information and over time. However, we are seeking upgrades to our electronic filing system to expand the parameters for the identification of excessive contributions.”

The Washington Times obtained a copy of the letter from the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance website.

In a brief phone interview Tuesday, Ms. Gentry said she was asked to write the letter by former council member-turned-lobbyist John Ray, who supported one of Ms. Schwartz’s opponents in the 2000 race. He did not return phone messages Tuesday. An attorney for Mr. Thompson also did not return a phone message.

While regulators and lawmakers have professed to be unaware of the ties between Mr. Thompson’s health care companies, years of filings compiled by city insurance regulators make clear the companies were not only related, but fell under the same corporate structure.

Chartered Health Plan “is a private-sector minority-owned HMO, with an affiliated health care center, Chartered Family Health Center PC, and a van transportation company, RapidTrans, as of December 31, 2007,” the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking stated in a public report.

“All companies are owned by the holding company — D.C. Healthcare Systems, which is 100 percent owned by Jeffrey E. Thompson, chairman of D.C. Chartered Health Plan.”