Every once in a while, big companies and politicians have to help each other out, which Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. knows as well as anybody. Thomas and Walmart, of course, go way back—-he’s been a supporter since getting elected. And what’s the point of corporate boosterism if you don’t get some favors in return?
Back in 2008, Thomas’ staff hoped that would take the form of product placement at events in the Ward. According to emails obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, in February 2008, then-Constituent Services director Ayawna Chase asked then-Walmart flack Rhoda Washington for a $2,250 donation to her boss’ nonprofit, Team Thomas, that would pay for 200 box lunches “with a sign displaying that they are courtesy of Walmart,” and $1,525 for tote bags that would have a “hang tag attached indicating that the tote bags are courtesy of Walmart, and that Walmart’s mission includes a commitment to environmental sustainability through ‘green’ items such as the reusable tote bags.”
Chase pressed her case even harder the next month, with a request for sponsorship of the Ward 5 Easter Egg Roll. She wrote (emphasis added):
Sponsorship of this event provides Wal-Mart the opportunity to identify itself to all of the business community and the Administration of Washington, D.C. – Deputy Mayor of Economic Development, Neil Albert of the commitment you have as a retailer to the residents that patronize your stores. Through signage at the event, scheduled for Monday, March 24, 2007, [sic] residents in the immediate community will begin to realize the importance of Wal-Mart’s value to the District. This event will allow Wal-Mart to establish brand loyalty and familiarity in the absence but also the eve of a relationship within the City. This event also serves as a precursor to the JOZ press conference scheduled for March 25, 2007, [sic] when Councilmember Thomas along with Chairman Vincent Gray, and Councilmember Kwame Brown, Chair of the Committee on Economic Development introduce this program alongside you here at the Wilson Building.
We know donating 2000 plastic Easter Eggs and candy treats to be inserted is a small token that will make a large impact on the residents, the business community, and the City as they here [sic] Wal-Mart was the contributing sponsor.
Whether or not Washington knew that funds going to Team Thomas for sandwiches and tote bags might actually be spent at Hooters, there’s no indication that she actually handed over the money. Walmart isn’t one of the donors named in the attorney general’s lawsuit against Thomas. Current Walmart rep Steve Restivo says it’s not in their records, although it could have been a direct check from Operations; Washington says she doesn’t recall either way.
Too bad, sounds like a huge missed opportunity!
Oh, and did I mention that Chase is now Thomas’ chief of staff?