Now Things Get Interesting
The dream of every insurgent candidate in D.C. has come true: FBI and IRS raids were conducted on the home and offices of a gargantuan political player, Jeffrey Thompson, who has ties to every incumbent Council member on the April 3rd primary ballot.
The details of what the Feds are pursuing remain unclear, but news accounts and intelligence gleaned from the political world suggest the possibility of straw donors and other illegal campaign activities. No charges have been filed.
Politicians in the District have spent more than a year under a cloud of suspicion and scandal. Battles about ethics and the conduct of elected officials have raged. One Council member resigned, pleaded guilty to two felonies and seems likely to be headed to prison in the coming months. Two separate federal grand juries are looking into the campaigns of the Mayor and the Council Chairman. A former Board of Elections and Ethics chair suspects "criminal activity" in the case of Kwame Brown. Many people believe that the Thompson probe stems from the potential misuse of money orders in Vince Gray’s 2010 campaign for mayor.
And now, with less than a month before voters head to the polls, Jeff Thompson --well known to local politicians, but by no means a household name-- has been placed under his own cloud of suspicion and with him every elected official who ever benefited from his largess.
It is called "guilt by association." The notion, despite being an ad hominem fallacy, is not a tough sell in an environment already contaminated with scandal, investigations, rumor, divisiveness and derision.
In the At-Large Council race, previously a quiet affair, Vincent Orange is coming under attack from his Democratic opponents Peter Shapiro and Sekou Biddle. A report by WAMU’s Patrick Madden tied donations received by Orange’s 2011 campaign to Thompson, an associate and her relatives.
Shapiro struck first. The WAMU piece quoted him seeking information about “questionable money orders” connected to Thompson. Biddle piled on by taking the fight to twitter where his campaign is asking Orange to produce copies of the money orders.
The news media picked up on the scrum. Orange has declared his campaign finances "clean" and is now launching an offensive aimed at his opponents.
Debates and candidate forums are plentiful this time of the year. Given the high stakes and increasingly hostile rhetoric, other skirmishes are likely.
This is now the contest to watch. The ability of each rival to maneuver could determine the outcome of the At-Large election.
In the Ward races, the past campaigns of incumbents Muriel Bowser, Yvette Alexander and Marion Barry have received funding from Thompson. None of their opponents has yet to raise questions or demand answers about ties to potentially dirty money. I cannot imagine what they are waiting for and will be dumbfounded if they fail to incorporate this brewing scandal into a strategic attack.
A little over a week ago it appeared as though every incumbent would be breezing to re-election. But in politics, success and failure at the polls is often about timing. An "October surprise" can derail a candidate seemingly headed toward victory.
While no one has suggested that Orange, Bowser, Alexander or Barry (Jack Evans is up for re-election, but he is uncontested) has done anything wrong or is of interest to the Feds, in an atmosphere polluted with scandal even the guiltless can suffer from an exasperated electorate.