With the official reprimand of Ward 1 D.C. Council member Jim Graham on Monday, I suppose our legislative body would like to see its ethical cloud receding into the rearview mirror.
Not gonna happen.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson chose the easy way out. Rather than call for Graham's censure, which would have required a council investigation into Graham's intervention with contractors for land and lottery deals, he offered up a reprimand, a slap on the wrist. Graham can say "ouch," return to the business of getting re-elected, and the council can sweep its nasty crumbs under the rug.
I don't think so. Two reasons:
» The feds are still hard at work investigating Mayor Vince Gray's mayoral campaign; their probe has broadened to political fundraising beyond the executive suite.
» Judiciary Committee Chairman Tommy Wells is positioning himself to be the new sheriff in town. Wells wants to be mayor, as we know. Why not ride that white horse of ethical purity right into the executive suite?
Whither U.S. Attorney Ron Machen's vaunted probe of the "shadow campaign" that helped besmirch incumbent Adrian Fenty and elect Gray? At this point, I doubt Machen's investigators have enough to indict Gray, but I do believe they are deep into the money trail blazed by Jeff Thompson, the city contractor who seems to have been behind the shadow campaign. Thompson dosed up many council campaigns, often with money orders. The feds are now following the money orders to connect politicians with donors who might have received special treatment from council members in return.
Which council member took no money from Thompson?
"Just me," says Tommy Wells.
When I asked Wells if he would use his committee to investigate fellow council members, he scoffed: "Already done it." He reminded me he used his transportation committee to investigate exactly how ex-Chairman Kwame Brown cadged that big, black Lincoln SUV on the city's dime.
As for Grahamgate, Wells expects more details might come out of Machen's investigation of the city's lottery contract. He also heaped scorn on Graham's defense of his actions as "horse trading."
Says Wells: "It goes to the heart of what's wrong with the council. It speaks to why people give money to constituent services funds, and contractors bundle money for campaign contributions -- on the belief council members will be able to influence how contracts are awarded."
Can you say pay to play?
"No city can continue to function like that," says Wells, who sets a very high ethical bar -- for the council and himself.
With Machen and Wells gunning for ethical violations, Graham might have gotten off easy, so far.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.