Nearly a quarter-million dollars in money orders have helped keep D.C. campaigns flush with cash in recent years, benefiting some of the same city politicians now considering all but banning the donations after a raid on the office of a prominent political patron.
But two politicians stand above the rest - D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange and Mayor Vincent C. Gray - who together account for nearly 40 percent of the $217,000 in money order contributions to city politicians since 2006, an analysis by The Washington Times shows.
For Mr. Gray, some of the biggest fundraising activity occurred at a time when he hardly seemed in need of the money.
During a three-day span in late September and early November 2010, weeks after his primary victory against incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Mr. Gray was all but assured of victory as the Democratic nominee in a heavily Democratic city. Yet, that's when his campaign received more than two dozen money orders, many for the maximum amount and several linked to prolific fundraiser and D.C. contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson.
Once a welcome and sought after source of campaign cash, contributions tied to Mr. Thompson now are under sharp scrutiny after federal agents raided his home and office this month as part of a federal campaign finance investigation, which also saw subpoenas sent to several city lawmakers.
Mr. Thompson's largesse goes far beyond Mr. Gray and Mr. Orange, an at-large Democrat. He has donated to more than a dozen campaigns for local office over the past decade at a time when his health care company - D.C. Chartered Health Plan - became the city's biggest Medicaid contractor, its business also growing under the administrations of former mayors Anthony A. Williams and Mr. Fenty.
Brendan Sullivan, a lawyer for Mr. Thompson, has declined to speak about the investigation, writing in an email he doesn't comment on matters related to clients. Mr. Thompson has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
The investigation also has shined a light on the use of money orders as a way to contribute to political campaigns. Days after the raid, city lawmakers began discussing whether to cap money donations at $25. Mr. Gray doesn't disagree, calling the legislation last week "an idea that has merit."
Days after the raid on Mr. Thompson's office, Mr. Gray said that like many city politicians over the years, he had asked for Mr. Thompson's support. But he said he didn't personally handle money order donations.
"Those things that I actually brought in were cash," he said.
Still, Mr. Gray benefited from several big money order donations tied to Mr. Thompson, including three $500 donations on Nov. 2, 2010, from an entity called Euclid Street Partners, whose incorporation papers list as officers Mr. Thompson and Keith Hendy, an employee at Mr. Thompson's accounting firm, according to other contribution records.
Mr. Gray also received a pair of $1,000 money orders days earlier from Kwame Calhoun, with campaign records showing a Silver Spring address that's the same as that of Lee Calhoun, an employee of Mr. Thompson's accounting firm, Thompson Cobb Bazilio & Associates. In all, $53,800 in contributions to District candidates have come from that Silver Spring home, $11,500 of which came in the form of money orders.
Overall, Mr. Gray has received 164 money orders over the years for more than $45,000, with 36 of the donations $499 or more.
Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mr. Gray, said Monday the mayor supports money order legislation and noted that his most recent budget includes more funding for the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.
While Mr. Gray has received more money orders, Mr. Orange has received more big money orders. Out of his 60 money orders, Mr. Orange received 39 donations for $499 or more, records show.
Among those giving money orders to Mr. Orange on March 10, 2011, were Kwame Calhoun, a California company called Ten2One Entertainment, which has not returned messages, and Mr. Thompson's Euclid Street Partners. Several employees of Thompson Cobb Bazilio & Associates also donated by check for the maximum amount that day.
The ties of other donors to Mr. Orange that day are harder to figure and include a concierge in Miami Beach, Fla., a Las Vegas consultant and a programmer for the children's cable channel Nickelodeon, all of whom gave $1,000.
Mr. Orange's office did not respond to a phone message Monday.
Other politicians who received significant money order donations include former Ward 1 D.C. Council candidate Jeff Smith, former Ward 5 council member Harry Thomas Jr., and council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, all of whom received more than $10,000 each. Mr. Fenty received 11 money orders for $3,820.
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Jim McElhatton is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luke Rosiak is a projects reporter on The Washington Times’ investigative team. He formerly covered lobbying and campaign finance for two watchdog groups as well as transportation for The Washington Post. Luke can be reached at email@example.com.
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