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The chairman of a political action committee with ties to embattled businessman Jeff Thompson, who is at the center of a federal investigation into Mayor Vince Gray‘s 2010 mayoral campaign, says he had no knowledge the PAC had raised and spent money over several years last decade, raising questions about the legitimacy of the organization’s political activity.
Formed in 2002, the “Business Leaders Political Action Committee,” was never a major player in city politics. It only raised $36,600 and hasn’t made any significant expenditures or donations since 2007. But it has ties to two of the city’s most powerful players: A third of the PAC’s donations came from Thompson or his companies. A man once nicknamed “governor” because of his outsized political power in D.C., Thompson has been implicated as the alleged financier of an illegal $650,000 “shadow campaign” to help Gray win election.
The rest of the money the PAC raised came from top-billing lobbyist David Wilmot‘s companies, his employees, or another PAC he controlled. For instance, there’s a $5,000 donation from Maria Wood, a long-time Wilmot assistant. There’s another $5,000 from David Wilmot & Associates, a company whose bank accounts would regularly house Thompson’s money, according to testimony from Wood and Wilmot at a civil trial.
The money was spent on a handful of political donations to Thompson-backed candidates between 2002 and 2004, like former Mayor Tony Williams, former D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp, former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown, Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander. There’s also expenditures on advertising, reimbursements to Wilmot for refreshments, and a $1,850 payment for “other” services rendered by a company owned by Jeanne Clarke Harris, a close associate of Thompson’s. She pleaded guilty last summer to playing a role in the alleged “shadow campaign” as well as a long-running straw donor scheme.
But Chris Lawson, who is listed on the Office of Campaign Finance website as the chairman of the PAC, says he was unaware the PAC did any fundraising or spent any money.
“Never heard of it,” Lawson said of the PAC when LL initially asked Lawson about it.
After LL provided some details about the PAC, Lawson said he did recall forming the committee in 2002 but “didn’t do a thing with it” afterwards. He says he’s surprised that Wilmot and Thompson donated to the PAC and that it spent money on political activity.
“That’s terrible,” says Lawson, who says he’s upset that he’s listed as chairman of a PAC he didn’t know was politically active. “Thanks for letting me know, ’cause I never knew that.”
Lawson has been a regular and generous donor to D.C. pols, with donations lining up with Thompson’s network of donors in several election cycles. His company, Insuraty, has contracted with Thompson’s former accounting firm and Medicaid managed care organization. A Prince George’s County resident, Lawson is currently the chairman of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s board.
The PAC’s treasurer is listed as Andrea Bagwell, a former employee at Wilmot’s law firm. The PAC’s address is the same as Wilmot’s firm. Bagwell is listed as having donated $5,000 to the PAC. A call to Bagwell’s most recently listed number was not immediately returned.
Lawson says he’s “never heard” Bagwell’s name before: “Treasurer? That is unbelievable.”
Wilmot declined to comment, and Thompson’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wesley Williams, a spokesman for OCF, says Bagwell signed the paperwork establishing the PAC in 2002 and shutting it down in 2009. Williams says most contact between PACs and OCF are through the treasurers.
Asked about Lawson’s contention that he was unaware of the PAC’s activities, Williams said: “That’s between him and the committee.”
The PAC also highlights another aspect of the extra-close relationship between Thompson, who was previously one of the city’s biggest contractors, and Wilmot, whose close association to Thompson doesn’t appear to have tampered his standing among D.C. pols. Just today on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Councilmember Anita Bonds referred to Wilmot, who is throwing a fundraiser for Bonds on Wednesday, as the “go-to guy” in D.C. politics.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery (David Wilmot, left)/C-Span screengrab (Jeff Thompson, right)