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When charged up about the city’s political future, most D.C. residents take a fairly humble route to change. They attend community meetings, make calls to councilmembers, and harangue their neighbors at the corner bodega.
The more fortunate might even contribute money to a candidate or two.
But the superrich have another way of expressing themselves: shelling out enough dough to create their own personal political action committee (PAC). Why fuss with those annoying D.C. laws that restrict individual and corporate contributions?
Just ask big-time developer and philanthropist Stephen A. Goldberg, who buys and operates huge office-building complexes in the region. By funneling money through 12 of his companies, he dumped $60,000 into the account of the Think D.C. PAC, according to the group’s Jan. 31 filing with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.
City residents first learned about Think D.C. on the night of Sept. 1, 2005, when crews planted hundreds of “Think Cropp” yard signs in public spaces like tree boxes and median strips. A couple of the signs ended up in the John A. Wilson Building shrubbery. The message Think D.C. hoped to convey was that the thoughtful voter would choose D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp to be the next mayor.
The next hit by the PAC was a snarky ad that ran a couple of weeks later on WTOP radio, painting Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty as a lightweight. The punch line: “Adrian Fenty (giggle): He’s just not ready for the big leagues.” The tab for those early efforts ran about $45,000.
That’s nickel-and-dime stuff for Goldberg. In 2003, one of his companies purchased 840 1st St. NE for $80,250,000, according to city records. His wife, Diana Goldberg, pledged $25 million to the National Children’s Medical Center in 2001. Stephen Goldberg did not return calls seeking comment. When LL dropped by his offices at 1615 M St. NW, a staffer who refused to identify herself said the boss would have no comment for this story. A request for more information about the company was also rejected.
Think D.C. PAC Chair Maurice Daniels says his sugar daddy’s big contributions don’t influence the committee’s activities. “I started a PAC, and I’ve been soliciting donations,” says Daniels. “I was fortunate enough to ask some businesses that supported me.”
Well, two businesses actually. Bethesda-based McMansion builder Stanley Martin Commercial Inc. kicked in $5,000, and Daniels himself coughed up $100. “Any one who contributes to the PAC can offer suggestions,” Daniel says. Let’s add up this three-person list of contributor-suggestors: Daniels, some corporate guy at Stanley Martin, and Goldberg. You have to wonder how Goldberg’s 92 percent share of the budget factors into discussions when ideas are being kicked around. “It’s not his PAC,” Daniels says.
The PAC’s pro-Cropp stance is right in line with Goldberg’s record of political generosity. Over the years, the developer and his companies have dumped $22,500 into Cropp’s various campaign committees.
Goldberg has consistently delivered for councilmembers who push business-friendly agendas. He pumped $6,000 into Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans’ now-defunct Jack PAC. Deposed Councilmembers Harold Brazil and Kevin Chavous spent lots of Goldberg cash during their failed 2004 re-election bids. Even Fenty’s first electoral victim, former Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, was on the Goldberg gift list.
Daniels isn’t prepared to offer any comment to illuminate the political leanings of the guy who shelled out big for his group.
Cropp has consistently distanced herself from the Think D.C. PAC. She publicly criticized the group after the derisive Fenty ads. Cropp 2006 campaign manager Phyllis Jones had this to say about the Goldberg funds flowing into the Cropp campaign coffers: “He sounds like someone who wants Linda Cropp to be the next mayor.”
PACMAN (Part II)
Last summer, the U.S. Postal Service delivered three pamphlets to D.C. residents that slammed the city’s baseball-stadium labor deal. The slick appeals were paid for by the Capitol Area Minority Contractors and Business Association (CAMCBA), an outfit run by the colorful and sometimes foulmouthed advocate Robert Green. The baseball-stadium labor accord then before the council, according to the mailings, would stifle opportunities for D.C.’s small minority businesses.
In Green’s view, the union-friendly deal wouldn’t do much to help unemployed and untrained African-Americans in the city. It would have required companies bidding for any contract over $10 million to use union labor.
Direct-mail experts contacted by LL estimate that the campaign cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Green refused to say where he got the money for the mailings. His line was that some of his group’s undisclosed “members” had made contributions. The same goes for questions about how his group bought a new van used to haul banners and sound equipment for rallies against the stadium labor accord. Green wouldn’t say how he paid for the buses used to ship protesters around town.
He says the sources of his funding are not important, so long as they share CAMCBA’s goal. “This is all about jobs for poor, black D.C. residents,” Green says.
Union leaders took a dim view of Green’s campaign. They figured it was an anti-labor push funded by some big, outside business group such as the union-hostile Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).
Green might be able to keep mum on his organization’s funding details, but the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance isn’t so hush-hush. The Jan. 31 filing required for political-action committees introduced the city to a new PAC called Citizens for Empowerment. The $200,100 bankroll for the group comes via two big open-shop companies: concrete-contracting giant Miller & Long and electrical-contracting firm MC Dean. The goal of the PAC, according to Treasurer Brett McMahon of Miller & Long, is to “encourage free enterprise” and support D.C. politicians who oppose special-preference legislation. You know, stuff like the stadium project labor agreement (PLA) and its preference for union workers.
Both companies funding the PAC are also associate members of CAMCBA, according to Green, who says his organization can’t accept money from any political organization.
“Associate member” is Green’s code word for “contributors who are not minorities,” he says. MC Dean President Bill Dean says he opposed the PLA and provided funds to CAMCBA that were probably used for the big mailings. The same goes for McMahon.
The revelation that Miller & Long is a Green backer doesn’t surprise Josh Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO. “All this does is verify what we have known all along,” says Williams, who says Miller & Long is a huge ABC funder and one of the group’s oldest members. “They are one in the same,” he says. “You cannot mention one without thinking of the other.”
McMahon says preferential treatment for some businesses permeates too many D.C.-government decisions. And that puts him on the same page as Green. McMahon and his pal Dean share Green’s concern that awarding big stadium contracts to union-friendly companies hurts poor, untrained D.C. residents. “That type of arrangement might make sense in Detroit, where everyone is in a union. But not in D.C., where most contractors are open shops,” McMahon says.
Green and his big-business buddies lost the PLA fight. The D.C. Council approved the deal on a 10-3 vote.
But the Citizens for Empowerment PAC is just getting started. Dean says the PAC will support candidates who embrace free-market approaches to problems like unemployment and job training. “And we’ll back every single candidate that does not want to see business preferences,” he says.
That may be a tough task in a city completely dominated by the Democratic Party and represented by pro-labor councilmembers. Dean knows what he’s up against. “There are just some people who are philosophically damned near communists,” he says.
So far, the only politician to win the PAC’s support is independent At-Large Councilmember David Catania.
Dean believes D.C.’s business-lobbying outfits are falling down on the job. “I’ve been involved in a lot of business groups,” he says. “If you follow the Chamber of Commerce, the [Greater Washington] Board of Trade, these are very large and difficult-to-move organizations.” His PAC will be for “people who want to see a real free-enterprise concept,” Dean says. “A lot of people talk about it, but nobody has stepped up to the plate. That’s what we hope to change.”
BROWN FOR CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR
LL was sure he’d made a mistake when browsing through long-shot mayoral candidate Michael Brown’s campaign-finance report. It must have somehow been mixed up with some new political effort by former California governor, now Oakland, Calif., Mayor Jerry Brown.
D.C. candidate Brown has apparently spared no travel time in collaring the cash that he’s struggled to raise closer to home. His report shows that 66 percent of his donors live outside of the city. Bunches are from California, where Brown held a fundraising event complete with car parkers from the firm Valet of the Dolls. Brown’s non-resident-heavy campaign filing includes a strange little glitch: Many of the addresses for out-of-town donors give the proper city of residence but list D.C. as the state. Surely this must have been a problem with the Office of Campaign Finance online filing system. Pacific Palisades, D.C., came close to sneaking by LL. But Los Angeles, D.C., and Silver Spring, D.C., were unfamiliar District neighborhoods that carried, respectively, California and Maryland zip codes.
Brown has made no secret of his plans to raise a lot of out-of-town money. “Anytime you are running against insider candidates who are on the council, you have to go outside the city,” says Brown. In a gesture worthy of frequent-flyer Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Brown is already promising his treasure-seeking travels will return tangible benefits for the city. “I talk about statehood wherever I go,” he says, “so when I’m mayor, people won’t be shocked when I start sending the statehood czar around the country.” —James Jones
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