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Ward 6 Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells wants to ban campaign bundling. But he took bundles of cash from at least two restaurateurs during his re-election campaign last year and says he may do so next time, too.
Bundling, for the unawares, is the practice of a campaign donor using multiple entities to circumvent maximum donation limits.
Since ethics reform became the talk of the town, Wells has been outspoken on outlawing bundling and has proposed legislation seeking to ban it. At an ethics hearing today, Wells nudged staff from the Office of Campaign Finance to go on record saying they support that measure.
Not surprisingly, none of Wells’ colleagues have been keen on joining him. That’s because bundling is the lifeblood of many campaigns. You can find evidence of bundling in virtually every candidates finance reports … including Tommy Wells’.
A quick look at Wells’ re-election campaign from last year shows that he accepted four donations of $500 each (the maximum allowed in ward races) from restaurants owned by Barracks Row restaurateur Xavier Cervera. The donations all came on the same date.
“If I believe in a candidate … I’ll try and maximize my donations,” says Cervera.
Similarly, Wells also took in a bunch of money from restaurants owned by Joe Englert, prolific bar mogul and the pied piper of H Street redevelopment. Englert gave $500 himself on April 13, 2010. On the same day at least six Englert-owned entities, including Politiki and Rock and Roll Hotel, gave Wells $1,400.
So, is Wells a big ol’ hypocrite for railing against a practice he’s benefited from?
No way, says Wells. The councilmartyr says he not only accepted bundled donations, but also ran a constituent service fund and probably took campaign donations from businesses that contract with the city—practices he says he now opposes, as well.
Such is the current “crisis in confidence” facing the council after a raft of scandals, says Wells, that the council needs a complete re-evaluation of how it does business.
But don’t assume, as LL did, that Wells is ready to give up on bundling should his ban fail to pass. Wells says he’d probably be unlikely to take bundled donations, but isn’t ready to rule it out. He says he’d have to consider how much of a dent it would put in his chances of being re-elected.
“Do I run again with one hand tied behind my back?” says Wells, noting that President Barack Obama faced a somewhat similar dilemma when he opted out of public financing for his 2008 campaign.
Wells also noted that despite his support of doing away with constituent service funds, he hasn’t decided whether he’ll shut his down, either.
In other words: Do as Wells says, not as he does?
Photo by Darrow Montgomery