Thursday afternoon was especially warm and lovely, so I slipped out of the office, took a bike ride through Lafayette Square -- where magnolia blossoms are already carpeting the paths -- and rode down to the Wilson Building, to visit my increasingly-pained elected representatives.
It has been a rough week down at the District building. Subpoenas started raining down on council members Tuesday, and they kept showing up as the week progressed. It seems a federal grand jury is investigating campaign contributions by Jeffrey E. Thompson, a local businessman who's made bank on multimillion-dollar government contracts. The feds have been asking our local representatives to turn over any campaign records that relate to Thompson or his companies.
No one has been accused of any wrongdoing, and little has leaked about the probe, but it's clear the feds are trying to see if anyone broke campaign finance laws -- on the giving or receiving end -- or if campaign contributions could be tied to contracts. Federal agents raided Thompson's home and offices earlier this month.
I was sitting on the marble staircase on the Wilson Building's first floor, trying to collect my thoughts, when Tommy Wells came down the stairs.
"Did you get one?" I asked the Ward 6 representative.
If Wells had been served, his colleagues would have snickered, since they consider him a tad too pure on the ethical side.
"No." he said.
Lucky for Wells, Jeff Thompson is his enemy. Thompson, who has contributed mightily to most council members, backed Kelvin Robinson against Wells in 2010. Also, Wells tells me he doesn't accept funds from lobbyists who bundle contributions, so he knows who's behind any checks. Also, he says he's never had to go on bended knee to a businessman, such as Thompson, to fill a shortfall in his campaign account.
Not so lucky for at-large council member Michael Brown, tieless and relaxed as he walked into the afternoon sun. "We got one two hours ago," he said. He would "gladly" turn over documents, he said.
Council Chairman Kwame Brown reported he had received a subpoena, bringing the number of papered members up to five, at least.
The council members have Mayor Vince Gray to thank. Federal investigators first uncovered questionable contributions in their probe of Gray's mayoral campaign. Thompson, a pillar of the city's old guard, rained dough on Gray's effort to beat incumbent Adrian Fenty. Why? Because Fenty had neither love nor contracts for Thompson, nor other members of the old guard. Many returned to the table with Gray. Fenty would not play. Did Thompson, or others, play fast and loose with campaign laws? We will find out.
As the federal investigations continue to tighten, D.C.'s political class feels the pain. I asked at-large member Phil Mendelson, who has received a subpoena, whether it's harder to legislate and govern?
"Yes," he said.
It could get a lot harder.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.