D.C. Council member Harry Thomas says nonprofit raised $200,000
D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., while serving as a legislator, controlled a sports nonprofit that collected and spent more than $200,000 in donations. But Thomas is unwilling to detail that fund-raising or spending, which was highlighted by his election opponent.
Thomas (D-Ward 5) provided information about the nonprofit today flanked by two high-powered attorneys at a John A. Wilson Building press conference, three weeks after a Superior Court judge ordered him to comply with a request for information from city lawyers.
From January 2008 to present, Team Thomas raised $216,159, with the majority of the money -- more than $188,000 -- raised in 2008, according to the disclosure. The organization spent essentially all of its earnings during that period.
"This is a very sensitive issue," Thomas said. "My life's work is being questioned."
The funds, Thomas said, paid for youth programs -- including golf camps, sports equipment and training materials. Team Thomas, the response said, has no salaried employees. Thomas also said that he had taken sports-related trips with company funds, including to Atlanta, Florida and to a sporting-goods convention in Las Vegas.
The organization dates back to before Thomas' election to the Ward 5 council seat, in 2006. Thomas said that he founded the group to provide programs at the Harry Thomas Recreation Center in Eckington, which is named after his father, who served as Ward 5 council member from 1987 to 1999. Thomas Jr. serves as president of the group's board of directors. His wife, Diane Romo Thomas, and sister Debra Truhart are the other members of the board.
Thomas did not offer a detailed list of the group's donations or its expenditures. One of Thomas' lawyers, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said that the city's request did not require an itemized list. Another attorney, John Ray, said it would violate donors' rights to privacy to disclose their identities without approval.
Left unanswered are questions of whether lobbyists or companies with interests in city government were donors to the group.
At the press conference, Thomas played a video produced by a Comcast cable network depicting a 2007 golf event. Among the persons interviewed praising the event are several city officials, including fellow D.C. Council members, plus executives of Comcast, which is granted a cable television franchise from the city. One is David W. Wilmot, a Comcast board member who is also registered to lobby city hall for the company. Thomas would not say whether Comcast or Wilmot had given to Team Thomas.
Cooke noted that Thomas is required to self-report any conflict of interest on annual financial disclosure form.
The Team Thomas inquiry is rooted in allegations leveled in October by the D.C. Republican Committee, which alleged that Thomas had used the group as a "slush fund" and had not registered for tax-exempt nonprofit status. Team Thomas had also allowed its corporate registration in the District to lapse on multiple occasions.
A deputy to D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles requested information on the group, including details on its organization and financial operations. When Thomas did not immediately comply, Nickles filed a subpoena for the documents. Thomas challenged the subpoena, calling it political retribution from Nickles and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), but on Nov. 2, a Superior Court judge gave Thomas three weeks to comply.
Ray said that he had recommended to Thomas as far back as 2008 that he shut down Team Thomas because of the political liabilities. "All you need is someone running against you to make an allegation," Ray said. "That's what happened here."
Thomas beat his Republican opponent, Tim Day, by nearly 80 percentage points.
Cooke took responsibility for the delay in producing the answers, which ended up amounting to a four-page letter plus attachments. "This is really not about [Peter Nickles]; this is about a schedule," Cooke said. "His lawyer was distracted with other things."
Nickles had yet to receive the information and had no immediate comment on the matter. He is expected to leave office before year's end.
| November 23, 2010; 1:39 PM ET
Categories: DCision 2010, The District
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