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Throughout his years in community politics, Ward 5 D.C. Council candidate Harry “Tommy” Thomas Jr. has understood the value of appearances. In a ward campaign, that means never letting your opponent appear to beat you on any front, whether it’s posturing, debating, or fundraising.

To go toe-to-toe with chief rival Frank Wilds on the cash chase, Thomas has resorted extensively to piling up “in-kind” contributions, or non-monetary donations. Based on June 10 campaign-finance reports, Thomas won the Tommy-vs.-Frank money fight $49,545 to $46,842.

But his victory gives new meaning to the term paper tiger.

When most candidates list in-kind contributions on financial reports, they usually refer to food, office space, or specialized labor. On his fundraising filing, Thomas lists 27 donations as in-kind contributions. That extra “cash flow” created a just enough of a cushion to give Thomas bragging rights over Wilds.

A few of Thomas’ in-kind listings seem legit. Who could argue with a $500 in-kind party thrown by the Solar Eclipse Restaurant and Club?

But D.C. government types were in-kind to Thomas, too: Office of Aging employee Adrian Reed and former D.C. Public Library spokesperson Debra Truhart (who’s also Thomas’ sister) both maxed out.

Spillman Truhart, who in a phone conversation identified himself as Thomas’ brother-in-law, is also in the $500-in-kind club. When asked to describe what services or goods he had given Thomas that could have been valued at $500, he replied, “You must be talking about my wife.” Spillman Truhart was not aware that he was down for $500 in-kind, saying he “did not know anything about it.”

The total amount of in-kind donations to Thomas is $22,350.

When contacted about the apparent contribution padding, Thomas told the Washington City Paper that his filing “is correct”—all of the in-kind listings were for personal services provided for the campaign.

“Everybody has value,” says Thomas, who plugs his campaign as unique precisely because his backers provide labor or other expertise rather than writing a check. Some campaigns call those folks volunteers, but Thomas says the work of his supporters “should be counted as a contribution.”

“Sweat equity is what I call it,” he says. Thomas has apparently worked up a good lather on the campaign trail. He lists a $10,000 in-kind contribution from himself.