Shivering With More Scandal

Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: Shivering With More Scandal

By Tom Sherwood

| Tuesday, Mar 6, 2012 | Updated 11:19 PM EST

Jeff Thompson

It may have been an unusually warm winter, but the latest FBI raid looking for corruption in D.C. is sending shivers through the city’s political establishment.

And it should.

The target of last week’s raid was prominent businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson — both his home and his offices on 15th Street. Thompson has the most lucrative contract there is with city government — more than $300 million a year in Medicaid health care services — and he is a prolific contributor to city political campaigns.

Campaign reviews by the media say Thompson has been instrumental in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for many city political leaders, including large sums for Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign for mayor.

Whatever Thompson’s role — his office did not respond to requests for comment on Monday — sources said federal authorities are specifically looking into at least tens of thousands of dollars in donations made to the Gray campaign through suspicious money orders and checks. Those sources say many names on the checks and money orders may simply have been “placeholders,” with the money not actually given by those individuals.

Patrick Madden, of WAMU 88.5 FM, reported on Monday that a similar group of questionable money orders made its way into the Vincent Orange campaign in last year’s special election. Orange said as far as he knows his contributions are all proper.

Photos and Videos

The Washington Post, The City Paper and other media also have reported on suspicious money orders in the Gray campaign. And that may be the heart of this investigation.

You might remember that Sulaimon Brown last year disclosed money orders that he said were payments from the Gray campaign for his attacks on then-Mayor Adrian Fenty during the campaign. It’s clear that the federal probe, as we reported last summer, has moved far beyond the foolishness of funding Sulaimon Brown’s attacks.

On the Notebook’s deadline, the full purpose of the federal raid wasn’t clear, but it’s clear city political leaders sense that the aura of corruption is getting worse.

Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, who supported Gray for mayor, told News4 on Monday that she shares the feeling that “something is very wrong in the District … the influence peddling, the money, people working for the government showering other people with money; it’s disgusting and it has to stop.”

Council Chairman Kwame Brown, asked about Thompson, said, “I have no idea what it is about. Clearly, I’m concerned like everyone else.” Brown also is under investigation — through a separate probe — for his 2008 campaign activities.

• Campaign poster?

Jeffrey Thompson could become the poster child for the group trying to ban donations to city politicians from corporations and firms doing business with the District.

Thompson would have a hard time replicating his massive giving if he had to create a series of political action committees to get around the ban and recruit other humans (not corporations) to give.

The D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust has a Facebook page. It soon will have authority to begin gathering signatures to put its ban on the November ballot.

Your Notebook has questioned whether a ban would truly curb contributions or just disperse them to other forms of giving (like at the federal level). But Friday’s raid makes it hard to have a practical discussion on the nature and influence of corporate giving; many people just want it to stop.

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