5 takeaways on health law arguments (Day 2)

5 takeaways on health law arguments

By: Jennifer Haberkorn and Josh Gerstein
March 27, 2012 08:30 PM EDT

This much is clear after Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments: The centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law stands in real danger of being struck down.

It’s not a sure thing by any means — but all of the other lessons of Tuesday’s arguments are shaped by the prospect that the law is in more trouble than many expected.

The court’s conservative justices defied expectations by delivering an unexpected battering to the individual mandate — and administration lawyer Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. — during two hours of oral arguments. Assuming the liberals side with Obama, at least one of the court’s Republican appointees would have to approve the law’s constitutionality for the law to be upheld.

“The government had in my view as bad a day as it reasonably could have,” said Tom Goldstein, founder of SCOTUSblog and a regular litigator at the high court. “It won’t cause the government to have a complete cardiac arrest — they’ll just be nauseous for months. … The only people coming out of that building optimistic today were the plaintiffs.”

Everyone will be studying the justices’ questions closely to figure out what’s next. Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s unexpectedly rough ride for the government:

It’s Roberts or Kennedy

The future of Obama’s health law rests in the hands of Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Based on their questions Tuesday, it’s going to be a long shot for Obama to get either one. But it’s the only shot Obama has — he needs at least one of them.

The court’s three most conservative justices — Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas — did not give any signs that they’re open to the government’s case. While some backers of the law held out hopes of picking up support from Scalia and Alito, those two justices quickly piled on against the law, suggesting that the mandate would lead to other requirements from Congress. Thomas, as per usual, did not ask questions during the argument.

Both Kennedy and Roberts asked sharply critical questions of the Obama administration during oral arguments on Tuesday, and they seemed to have only passing reservations about striking the law’s mandate.

Roberts appeared to be worried that if the court upholds the health law, the ruling could lead to a parade of other mandates from Congress.

“Once we say that there is a market and Congress can require people to participate in it … it seems to me that we can’t say there are limitations on what Congress can do under its commerce power, just like in any other area,” Roberts said. “All bets are off.”

Kennedy had similar concerns. “Here, the government is saying that the federal government has a duty to tell the individual citizen that it must act, and that is different from what we have in previous cases,” he said. That “changes the relationship of the federal government to the individual in the very fundamental way.”

But the law’s supporters shouldn’t write off Roberts and Kennedy just yet. Both of them at least acknowledged the government’s argument that everyone needs health care at some point in his or her life — it’s key to the government’s position that health care is a unique area that warrants exemptions.

“The young person who is uninsured is uniquely, proximately very close to affecting the rates of insurance and the costs of providing medical care in a way that is not true in other industries,” Kennedy said. “That’s my concern in the case.”

Late in the arguments, Roberts made a couple of similar points. But unlike Kennedy, his statements had a perfunctory quality to them, since he made it clear he was recycling arguments from the government.

It’s all about the broccoli

The biggest obstacle for Roberts and Kennedy appears to be whether allowing the health law to proceed opens the door to Congress mandating that Americans buy other products, such as broccoli.

The best hope for the administration is if the liberal justices — or Roberts or Kennedy — can identify a way to write the ruling that would prevent the “parade of horribles” that Justice Sonia Sotomayor talked about: mandates to buy leafy greens, gym memberships, General Motors cars or the latest entry in that series — cellphones.

“I thought that was an important part of your argument,” Roberts told Verrilli. “That when you need health care, the government will make sure you get it. Well, when you need police assistance or fire assistance or ambulance assistance, the government is going to make sure to the best extent it can that you get it — get it.”

But Roberts asked whether the same assurance that the government will provide emergency services could lead to a requirement that everyone buy a cellphone to help facilitate communication in an emergency.

If Roberts can find a way to ensure that the “cellphone” mandate can’t happen, it’s the best shot that he’ll be OK with upholding the insurance mandate.

Did the government’s lawyer blow it?

The court session had barely ended Tuesday when court watchers began panning Verrilli’s performance in front of the justices.

“They [other side] did a heck of a better job than Donald. … He was passive. He was stumbling,” CNN legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin told POLITICO. “I was just shocked.”

Washington Post columnist and policy blogger Ezra Klein wrote on Twitter that “reading the transcript, Verrilli is weak,” adding, “but more so [because] the justices were hostile to his argument.”

However, other analysts said the negative reviews of Verrilli’s performance were wildly exaggerated. Reporters and other observers who spent almost an hour waiting for the arguments to begin gave too much weight to a minor stumble at the outset of Verrilli’s presentation.

“Something weird happened. He kind of stopped and restarted and that kind of got in people’s heads,” said Goldstein, who regularly appears before the justices.

Goldstein said Verrilli did a “fine job” and had the tougher task of the two sides this morning — even before he opened his mouth. He said Verrilli also suffered in comparison with former Solicitor General Paul Clement — the attorney representing the states opposing the law — who gave “the argument of his life.”

Still, it seemed at times that even the court’s liberal wing didn’t think Verrilli was making the best arguments for the law. “I thought your main point is …” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said as she interrupted Verrilli’s answer to one of Scalia’s questions.

The court’s liberal wing looks solid

There was never much doubt that the court’s four liberal justices would vote to uphold the health care law, but there was even less after Tuesday’s arguments.

Justices Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer proved to be the most ardent proponents for the law, frequently making arguments to try to win over their colleagues.

Breyer seemed most taken by the argument that the mandate is needed to help regulate the health market and get insurance coverage to the millions of uninsured Americans.

And Ginsburg tried to help Verrilli make the case that despite the best plans, no one can be sure they will be able to pay for their health care if disaster strikes.

“Unlike food or any other market, when you made the choice not to buy insurance, even though you have every intent in the world to self-insure, to save for it, when disaster strikes, you may not have the money,” she said.

The pundits take it on the chin … or need ketchup with that hat, sir?

In the orgy of panel discussions, interviews and feature articles previewing this week’s arguments, law professors, Supreme Court litigators and journalists confidently predicted that the justices would uphold the individual mandate as a logical extension of the federal government’s well-established ability to regulate the health insurance market.

Harvard law professor Charles Fried, a solicitor general himself in the Reagan era, famously promised a couple of years ago to eat his Kangaroo skin hat if the Supreme Court struck down the law.

Within the first few minutes of Tuesday’s arguments, that bravado seemed to go out the window.

“Eventually, the conventional wisdom will catch up with reality,” Goldstein joked. “It’s absolutely true that this argument has gotten the back of the hand from the legal glitterati, including myself.”

The final word won’t come for months, Goldstein said, “but I’ll tell you [the challengers] are doing the high-fives today. … They’re not doing them at the Department of Justice.”

© 2012 POLITICO LLC

Source: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/74566.html

Raids target home and office of Gray campaign figure

Raids target home and office of Gray campaign figure

By Mike DeBonis and Nikita Stewart, Published, Washington Post: March 5

A woman who did communications work for D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign had her home and office searched Friday by federal investigators, according to people with knowledge of the probe.

The raids involving Jeanne Clarke Harris were carried out the same day investigators searched the home and office of a prominent city contractor and campaign financier. Harris is a public relations consultant with deep roots in city politics. She has ties to contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson that date back a decade.

Her company, Details International, was paid $20,000 from the Gray campaign in August 2010 for consulting, according to campaign finance records.

The company’s office was searched Friday, as first reported by WJLA (Channel 7), and confirmed by two people with knowledge of the investigation who were not allowed to comment publicly on the probe. Harris on Monday evening referred questions to lawyer Mark H. Tuohey III, who declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Thompson’s accounting firm acknowledged Monday that a federal search of its offices was related to “ongoing federal investigation into campaign finance in the District of Columbia.”

Ralph B. Bazilio, president and chief operating officer of Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates, said the firm “turned over documents and information relating to campaign fundraising events hosted by Jeff Thompson” in a letter sent to one of the D.C. government agencies with which it contracts.

“There has been no accusation of wrongdoing, and TCBA will continue to cooperate with the government’s investigation,” he wrote.

Friday’s raids come as a grand jury investigates allegations against Gray’s mayoral campaign. That investigation is focusing on irregularities in money-order donations and independent committees that might have collaborated with the campaign in violation of campaign finance laws, according to people familiar with the investigation who are not allowed to speak publicly about the probe.

Investigators also have ordered D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan to preserve records pertaining to Thompson-owned Chartered Health Plan. A spokesman for Nathan’s office acknowledged the request Monday.

That would include documents regarding a controversial settlement the city reached with Chartered. Last September, the Gray administration agreed to pay $7.5 million in connection with a billing dispute over dental reimbursement rates. The settlement was paid over the objections of D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), who insisted the contract was sound and noted that the company paid a $12 million settlement to the city in 2008 over improper billings.

Thompson did not return phone calls seeking comment. Two people familiar with the federal investigation said Thompson has retained Williams & Connolly partner Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. as his lawyer. Sullivan, one of the city’s most prominent white-collar defense lawyers, rarely speaks to the media and has not responded to numerous requests for comment.

The Gray administration is keeping quiet on the raids. “We don’t know anything, so we can’t comment on that,” spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said Sunday.

But Harris is not unfamiliar to the administration. On Jan. 8, Gray (D) issued a ceremonial proclamation commemorating Harris’s 75th birthday. District Secretary Cynthia Brock-Smith said the document was requested by Linda Mercado Greene, Gray’s girlfriend.

Thompson also continues to do a great deal of business with the District government. Chartered Health continues to be the city’s biggest Medicaid contractor and top overall contractor, holding a deal worth as much as $322 million yearly.

Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates also continues to hold major contracts. On Feb. 7, according to city spending records, TCBA was paid $998,128.44 from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. That payment was pursuant to a contract to evaluate and verify software related to the District’s basic accounting system, said David Umansky, a spokesman for the office.

The firm also holds a contract dating to 2010 to audit records in the District’s unemployment insurance office, recently rocked by revelations that dozens of workers double-dipped unemployment benefits while holding city jobs. That contract has been worth about $665,000 to date.

TCBA is also one of two bidders on a solicitation to build a Modernized Real Property Tax System — one meant to replace a system that was in place when a city tax office employee devised a scheme to steal nearly $50 million over two decades.

That contract has not yet been awarded, Umansky said.

Staff writers Tim Craig and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.

Transcript Highlights Of The Lively Arguments At The Supreme Court, Day 2

Transcript: Highlights Of The Lively Arguments At The Supreme Court, Day 2

Here are excerpts of some of the most compelling parts of Tuesday’s oral arguments at the high court.

Mar 27, 2012

In the arguments before the Supreme Court Tuesday on the insurance mandate – sometimes referred to as the minimum coverage provision – conservative justices aggressively challenged the government’s position. U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. represented the government. Paul D. Clement and Michael A. Carvin represented those contesting the law.

Here are excerpts:

VERRILLI (opening arguments): Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The Affordable Care Act addresses a fundamental and enduring problem in our health care system and our economy. Insurance has become the predominant means of paying for health care in this country. For most Americans, for more than 80 percent of Americans, the insurance system does provide effective access. But for more than 40 million Americans who do not have access to health insurance either through their employer or through government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid, the system does not work. Those individuals must resort to the individual market, and that market does not provide affordable health insurance.

It does not do so because, because the multibillion dollar subsidies that are available for the, the employer market are not available in the individual market. It does not do so because ERISA and HIPAA regulations that preclude, that preclude discrimination against people based on their medical history do not apply in the individual market. That is an economic problem. And it begets another economic problem.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Why aren’t those problems that the Federal Government can address directly?

VERRILLI: They can address it directly, Justice Scalia, and they are addressing it directly through this, through this Act by regulating the means by which health care, by which health care is purchased. That is the way this Act works.

Under the Commerce Clause, what, what Congress has done is to enact reforms of the insurance market, directed at the individual insurance market, that preclude, that preclude discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, that require guaranteed issue and community rating, and it uses — and the minimum coverage provision is necessary to carry into execution those insurance reforms.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?

VERRILLI: That’s not what’s going on here, Justice Kennedy, and we are not seeking to defend the law on that basis.

In this case, the — what is being regulated is the method of financing health, the purchase of health care. That itself is economic activity with substantial effects on interstate commerce….

PPACA Oral Arguments Transcript: Day 1 (with audio recording)

LifeHealthPro

PPACA Oral Arguments Transcript: Day 1 (with audio recording)

By Allison Bell

March 26, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court justices kicked off the first day of oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) with tough questions about why they should or should not put off hearing challenges till after the law has taken effect.

Robert Long, a lawyer representing "friends of the court," tried to make the case that the Tax Injunction Act forbids the federal courts from hearing challenges to new taxes — including the penalties individuals might have to pay if they failed to buy the minimum level of health coverage required by PPACA — until the taxes have taken effect.

Donald Verrilli Jr., the solicitor general for the Obama administration, and Greg Katsas, who represented the National Federation for Independent Business, Nashville, Tenn., and the 26 states that are trying to overturn PPACA, argued that the federal courts already have jurisdiction over the constitutionality of the individual coverage mandate penalty.

Katsas said the Supreme Court can rule on the challenge because PPACA opponents are separating the challenge of the coverage ownership requirement from the penalty provision.

Chief Justice John Roberts questioned that line of reasoning.

"it seems very artificial to separate the punishment from the crime," Roberts said.

Earlier, however, when Long was arguing in favor of using the Tax Injunction Act to knock out the suit, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsubrg questioned whether the PPACA penalty is really a tax for purposes of applying the act.

"Mr. Long, you said before — and I think you were quite right — that the Tax Injunction Act is modeled on the Anti-Injunction Act," Ginsburg said. "And, under the Tax Injunction Act, what can’t be enjoined is an assessment for the purpose of raising revenue. The Tax Injunction Act does not apply to penalties that are designed to induce compliance with the law, rather than to raise revenue. And this is not a revenue-raising measure because, if it’s successful, they — nobody will pay the penalty, and there will be no revenue to raise."

Justice Elena Kagan suggested that Long was trying to rewrite PPACA.

"You are trying to suggest that the statute says: Well, it’s your choice, either buy insurance or pay a — or pay a fee," Kagan said. "But that’s not the way the statute reads. And Congress, it must be supposed, you know, made a decision that that shouldn’t be the way the statute reads, that it should instead be a regulatory command and a penalty attached to that command."

Here is a link to the transcript è http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/11-398-Monday.pdf

Here is a link to the audio recording è http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_audio_detail.aspx?argument=11-398-Monday

March 26 Transcript.pdf

Gray’s D.C. budget plan includes more traffic fines

Gray’s D.C. budget plan includes more traffic fines

By Nikita Stewart, Washington Post, Published: March 23

Drivers in the District could pay an additional $30 million in traffic camera fines and low-income residents would see a $23 million cut in health care coverage under a budget proposal unveiled Friday by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

The Gray proposal includes no new fees or taxes but includes a number of proposals to generate an additional $69.4 million worth of revenue to combat a budget gap estimated at $172 million.

Perhaps most controversial will be a proposal to deploy new automated “traffic calming initiatives” that would generate $30.6 million in fine revenue. That surge would be offset by the $5.8 million cost of expanding the automated enforcement program.

Expansion of “performance parking” is anticipated to general to bring in an additional $3.3 million in new fees and fines.

While the increasing use of speeding and red-light cameras has vexed drivers and the AAA, they have been hailed by resident groups frustrated by commuter traffic speeding through their neighborhoods.

Budget documents indicate that the new traffic measures could include the deployment of “speed-on-green” cameras that could catch drivers zooming though intersections and new laser-equipped cameras that could operate in tunnels. Gray is also proposing pilot enforcement programs targeting pedestrians and drivers who “block the box.”

Gray is also proposing to allow alcohol sales until as late as 4 a.m. on weekends, providing an additional $5.3 million in sales tax revenue. The plan would allow bars to remain open till 3 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends — one hour later that presently in each case.

Package liquor stores could open as early as 7 a.m., and a special regime would be established for the week surrounding upcoming presidential inaugurations. Bars that purchase a special permit would be able to remain open until 4 a.m. any day; permitted restaurants could serve alcohol 24 hours during the period.

He is also proposing to scale back planned rises in tax deductions and exemptions, which would result in higher income and property tax bills for city residents — $12 million in total. More thorough collection of existing taxes is expected to generate $28.2 million.

The $103 million in cuts proposed by Gray appear to fall most heavily on health and human services programs. The largest single cut is a $23 million reduction in benefits to residents enrolled in the D.C. Healthcare Alliance program, which covers low-income residents not eligible for Medicaid.

Under the Gray proposal, the Alliance would cover “primary and preventative care only.” Hospitalizations would no longer be covered. Gray is also proposing to slash Medicaid reimbursement rates by $8 million.

The Alliance cuts came under immediate criticism from D.C. Council member David A. Catania, chairman of the health committee, who called the cut “short-sighted” and proposed instead cutting back pension benefit growth.

Gray touted his plan’s $86 million hike in schools funding and a $20 million increase in police funding that would maintain a force of 3,900 sworn officers.

The budget gap was initially estimated at $115 million, but increased school enrolment estimates and “additional required Medicaid” funding have boosted the number to $172 million.

Another battle for Marion Barry

Another battle for Marion Barry

By Tim Craig, Washington Post, Published: March 21

When D.C. Council member Marion Barry strolled into his 76th birthday party this month, he was greeted much as he has been at thousands of events across the District for much of his three-decade political career.

Barry, who is seeking a third consecutive term as the Ward 8 council member, beamed as a few dozen well-wishers reached for him, crushed up against him for a picture and shouted encouraging words.

“I’m popular,” Barry told a reporter as he walked through the crowd at his party at Georgena’s in Southeast Washington, formerly known as the Players Lounge.

But when Barry sits down, after the “Barry, Barry” chants subside, the former mayor is an increasingly lonely politician.

Sure, Barry is often joined by former council member Sandra Allen, his campaign manager, as well as his son, Christopher, and godson Dennis Harvey. But Barry is relying on an increasingly shallow pool of core supporters to help him fend off four other candidates in the Democratic primary.

Only one of Barry’s council colleagues, Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), showed up at his party. Anthony J. Motley, one of Barry’s closest friends and a former campaign manager, now says he is undecided about whether he will vote for him in the April 3 primary.

And Natalie Williams, a former Barry spokeswoman who helped guide him through his most recent, rocky, four-year term, is running against him. Williams said she decided to run because she was convinced that Barry is no longer up to the job.

“I care about his age, his health and his overall well-being,” Williams said. “I said to him: ‘I want you to enjoy the rest of your life. You’ve done enough, and to continue to work when your heart is not in it, it’s a disservice to the community.’ . . . I’ve seen him slow down.”

But there will be no coasting into retirement for the former four-term mayor, who proudly notes that he has won 11 of his past 12 political campaigns, losing only a 1990 at-large council race while he awaited sentencing for a drug conviction.

As Christopher Barry said in a recent interview, politics is in his father’s blood and is “his life,” and it’s “not something he can put on and off like a coat.”

“I’m 76 years of age. I’ve had prostate cancer. I’ve had a kidney transplant. I’ve been a diabetic for 23 years, but the key is my mind,” Marion Barry said in a recent interview. “My mind is as sharp as ever. I’m wiser than ever.”

Indeed, for a good chunk of voters in Ward 8, life without Barry would be like trying to live without the 11th Street bridge.

“The people outside the perimeter don’t have no idea,” said Sandra Lindsay, a Barry supporter. “He’s a man, not infallible, but the ultimate politician.”

Barry is still favored over his opponents in the primary — Williams; former Ward 8 Democratic Party head Jacque D. Patterson; and advisory neighborhood commissioners Sandra Seegars and Darrell Gaston — although few expect him to match the 77 percent showing he had four years ago.

‘Obviously winning’

Despite well-chronicled health problems that leave him weak, Barry remains a formidable campaigner and debater, able to woo crowds with his affable personality and his discourses about what he did for African Americans as mayor in the 1980s.

“Councilman Barry is obviously winning,” said Markus Batchelor, vice president of the Ward 8 Democratic Committee. “There are a lot of qualities each candidate can bring to the job, but it’s pretty tough to tell who will come in second.”

Two of the candidates, Patterson and Seegars, are well-known Ward 8 politicians who have run unsuccessful campaigns against Barry in the past.

Patterson, 47, a former program manager at the Federal City Council, an influential group of business and civic leaders, unsuccessfully challenged Barry in 2004. This year, Patterson is receiving support from progressives who hope to reform and professionalize the council. Seegars, who has lost four previous Ward 8 council races, is well known in Southeast for her activism and criticisms of Barry.

“People are waking up,” Seegars said in describing her chances this year.

Gaston, 25, works for the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and is part of a generation of activists looking to take the lead in Ward 8, which has had just five council members since home rule was granted in the 1970s.

Williams, 40, a public relations consultant, previously served as Barry’s communications director. She is a single mother and is trying to mobilize women in her campaign. She said she “can talk the talk and walk the walk” in a ward where three out of four households are headed by unmarried mothers and where nearly half of the children live in poverty.

Counting on ‘Barry fatigue’

Barry’s opponents note that only 5,400 of the Ward’s 33,000 registered Democrats voted four years ago. And with 4,000 new residents since redistricting last year, Barry’s opponents remain optimistic. The key to success, they say, is capitalizing on increasing “Barry fatigue,” especially among the growing numbers of college-educate residents in Ward 8.

In 2009, Barry was publicly shamed when the Washington City Paper published details of his sexual relationship with a former girlfriend at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Eight months later, Barry was censured by council colleagues after an independent investigator determined that he had steered city money to several friends and supporters and that he personally had benefited from a city contract that he awarded to a former girlfriend.

Last year, The Washington Post reported that Barry had been driving around for more than six months in a car that had “inactive” tags and was not registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Barry has long benefited politically from suspicions among Ward 8 residents his legal troubles were driven by the media or politically motivated prosecutors. Yet in recent years, Barry’s political skills have been tested by self-inflicted gaffes.

Last year, after a Washington Post reporter noticed Barry driving his car down Pennsylvania with its bumper dragging, Barry responded, “When you live in the ghetto, this happens.” The remark outraged some residents, and Barry redoubled his efforts to reach out, including joining Twitter to connect with younger constituents.

Barry can stray into conversations that most politicians would smartly avoid.

“When the Jews were being herded into ghettos of Poland, nobody minded that term,” Barry said in an interview Thursday, explaining his remark about Ward 8 being a ghetto. “They said, ‘this is a Jewish ghetto. This is a Polish ghetto for Jews.’ . . . If you look at the meaning of the ghetto, it’s both sociological and geographical.”

On the campaign trail, however, Barry sticks to a more disciplined script, arguing that new housing and other development are appearing in Ward 8 under his leadership.

He takes credit for 10,000 new or renovated housing units since 2005, the pending reconstruction of Ballou High School and plans to renovate four recreation centers.

“The other candidates are going to talk about what they’d like to do, will do, plan to do, but Marion Barry is going to talk about what he has done,” Barry said at a recent debate.

Barry’s opponents note that many of the projects he speaks of originated with and were championed by other city leaders, including former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). But Barry, whose influence on the council has grown under Brown, said he has been instrumental in “making the deals” that keep city money flowing into Ward 8.

Barry’s opponents counter that Ward 8 still has more than 300 boarded-up properties, too many liquor stores and not enough retail because national chains do not want to invest in the area while Barry represents the community.

“The basis of my campaign is empowering residents to not live in the past but to move forward,” Gaston said. “If D.C. can build a baseball stadium, there is no reason we can’t have commercial corridors that are a beacon.”

Support and dissent

After a recent candidates’ debate, Khadijah Watson said she was undecided on whom to vote for but thinks “Barry is the only person experienced enough to hold to the seat.”

“We want people who understand the ward,” said Watson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner.

But a growing number of D.C. leaders are tired of waiting for Barry to step aside.

Motley, who has been friends with Barry for 30 years, said he has “insisted, going back years, that [Barry] come up with a plan for passing the mantle.”

“He keeps assuring me he’s healthy and good and all, but sometimes I see him slowing down a little bit,” said Motley, who remains undecided about whom he will vote for but speaks fondly of Williams.

Barry says it’s “nonsense” for someone to suggest that he should have stepped aside to make way for new talent.

“They sound like they want a dictatorship,” Barry said. “If the people want me, they should be able to have me.”

Gray team’s outlays probed

Gray team’s outlays probed

workers allege ‘shadow campaign’ Spending may have gone unreported in D.C.

By Nikita Stewart, Washington Post, Wednesday, March 21, 10:47 PM

The federal investigation into Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 election now includes a focus on an alleged get-out-the-vote effort that was not publicly reported and that several campaign workers have called a “shadow campaign,” according to people with knowledge of the probe.

The former campaign staffers said the alleged activity ran outside the apparatus of the official election efforts, meaning that the spending was not reported, as would generally be required by campaign finance laws.

Several campaign aides and volunteers told The Washington Post that veteran field organizer Vernon E. Hawkins coordinated the alleged effort, sometimes working out of Gray’s downtown campaign headquarters. At the time, Gray (D) was considered an underdog, and his fundraising badly lagged behind that of the incumbent mayor, Adrian M. Fenty (D). The alleged shadow campaign would have added money and manpower.

The aides and volunteers spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid about the matter. Some said they had talked with investigators looking into the Gray campaign.

Top campaign consultants said they believed that Hawkins — a former Human Services director who was forced out in 1996 after mismanagement claims — was a volunteer who advised them on campaign literature that would resonate with voters east of the Anacostia River. The campaign workers said they don’t know the origin of Hawkins’s effort, which included getting voters to the polls and distributing literature, but that it was well-organized.

Hawkins did not return calls seeking comment, and Gray said it was his understanding that Hawkins was a campaign volunteer. Gray declined to answer specific questions about the campaign allegations, citing the ongoing investigation.

None of the people identified by The Post as being involved in Hawkins’s alleged operation is listed on Gray campaign-finance records as receiving significant compensation. Under city law, political committees must publicly report their activities even if they are not coordinating with a campaign. The Post could not find any records filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance that reflect the activity the aides described.

One Philadelphia-based consultant, Tracy Hardy, said he “coordinated with Hawkins” and “never worked for the Vincent Gray campaign.”

Several raids

Hardy said he was paid by Details International. That is a D.C. firm owned by public relations consultant Jeanne Clarke Harris, whose home and office were raided this month by federal authorities on the same day authorities searched the home and offices of businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson.

Harris and Thompson — whose managed-care organization Chartered Health Plan is the District’s largest contractor, with as much as $322 million annually in city business — are longtime associates. The raids are part of a widening probe into potential campaign violations, and it includes D.C. council members whose campaigns were served with subpoenas last week for records tied to Thompson and Harris.

Also, the aides said, political consultant Junelle Cavero, who headed the campaign’s get-out-the-vote efforts on primary day, coordinated with Hawkins, Hardy and Tracey Watkins, a political consultant based in Richmond.

Watkins initially said she would speak with The Post but did not return calls. Cavero’s attorney, Tom Connelly, declined to answer any questions, including whether she has testified before the grand jury. “I don’t feel comfortable talking at this stage in the case,” he said.

In recent years, Thompson, Harris, their firms, relatives, employees and others with ties to them have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Gray, Fenty, former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), and other mayoral and council candidates.

Most recently, council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), who is running for reelection in the April 3 primary, released records of campaign donations that he says were bundled by Thompson. Orange said he now is suspicious of the contributions, particularly those in the form of money orders that were sequentially numbered made to his 2011 special election.

The Post reported a year ago that mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown has alleged that the Gray campaign paid him to disparage Fenty on the campaign trail and promised him a city job. He said he received cash and money orders, some of which he deposited in his campaign fund. The Post later reported that the Gray campaign had accepted cash contributions above the legal limit and received an unusually high number of donations via money order. Gray has denied any wrongdoing.

The Gray campaign paid Details International $20,000 on Aug. 26, 2010, just a few weeks before the Sept. 14 primary, according to campaign-finance records. The Gray administration said the campaign hired Harris’s firm as a consultant to buy ads in the black press. The firm, however, missed a purchase deadline and returned the check to the Gray campaign, according to the administration. The Post obtained a copy of the voided check.

But Mo Elleithee, a political consultant who was in charge of communications and messaging for the Gray campaign, said that he was unaware of the Details payment until recently and that he did not understand why the firm was paid because it was his responsibility to oversee all advertising. Potomac Waves, a company that shares Georgetown offices with Elleithee’s Hilltop Public Solutions, was hired to secure black radio and print advertising, he said.

Campaign records show payments from the Gray campaign to Potomac Waves for “advertising” and the voided $20,000 check to Details as a “consultant.”

“It’s increasingly clear that there was a shadow campaign that the legitimate campaign didn’t know anything about,” Elleithee said.

Gray’s campaign aides said they knew that some registered political-action committees worked on behalf of Gray, including one bankrolled by businessman R. Donahue Peebles. But it’s unclear where money came from to pay for canvassers and supervisors for the alleged “shadow campaign.”

Attorney Frederick D. Cooke Jr. is representing Harris, Hardy and Thomas W. Gore, Gray’s longtime friend who assisted campaign treasurer Betty J. Brown.

Cooke declined to comment on behalf of his clients. Brown did not return a call seeking comment.

Campaign-finance records show that Monroe Press, a Philadelphia-based firm owned by Hardy, received $1,860 from the Gray campaign the day after the primary. Hardy said he was not paid by the Gray campaign for his political services but that his firm may have received some money for printing.

He declined to say how much he or Monroe Press earned from Details, but he said he brought in a half-dozen consultants in the summer of 2010 to help with Gray’s election. He said they worked out of a room of the Gray headquarters on Sixth Street NW. Hardy also said he worked with Watkins, who was later hired by Orange on his 2011 campaign.

Hardy said he did his job. “They call me when they want to win. I’m just a political consultant. I come in, and I leave,” he said.

But Hawkins, a fixture in local politics who most recently was helping with Orange’s reelection campaign, remained. After the primary, Andrew Kennedy, owner of Kennedy Communications, said Hawkins asked him to create a quick piece of literature he could distribute.

Paid by cashier’s check

Kennedy said that when he asked about payment, Hawkins said he would take care of it. Kennedy said he does not know who delivered the payment to his office, but it came in the form of a cashier’s check from the Gray campaign — the first time he said he’d been paid any way other than a regular check or wire transfer.

Kennedy said he told the Gray campaign that he got the check, and Gore and Reuben O. Charles II, the campaign’s chief fundraiser and later director of the Gray transition team, said they suggested that it was an approved expense. Charles could not be reached.

“I believed every single payment we received was from the campaign,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said Wednesday that he reviewed his documents and found a record for a cashier’s check for $5,548.

Gray’s campaign-finance records do not show any expenditure for that amount.

Staff writer Mike DeBonis and researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

Tom Brown moves to unite Ward 7 opposition

Posted at 03:45 PM ET, 03/21/2012

Tom Brown moves to unite Ward 7 opposition

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Lang, Brown and Hughes want to send a message to Alexander foes.

The mathematics of the Ward 7 D.C. Council race are pretty simple: In the Democratic primary, there’s a significant group of voters looking for an alternative to incumbent Yvette M. Alexander, but she has four challengers who could split the opposition and help guarantee Alexander a second full term.

Tom Brown, fresh off a number of major endorsements, is making a big effort now to sell himself as the candidate for Alexander opponents to converge behind, hosting a rally today to tout his growing support.

The rally featured two strange-ish bedfellows in D.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO Barbara Lang and AFL-CIO Metro Washington Council President Joslyn Williams.

Big Business and Big Labor have swum in the same pool before on occasion, but to have them allied against a sitting incumbent is rather something. Representatives of the D.C. for Democracy progressive group and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club also appeared to tout their Brown endorsements.

I was unable to make it to Deanwood’s Living Faith Baptist Church for the rally, but Lang said in a telephone interview that while “unusual” for her to share a stage with the city’s biggest labor group, her members are supporting Brown’s pro-small-business message.

Brown, 45, runs a workforce development nonprofit, Training Grounds, that has seen significant corporate support.

Alexander, she said, “has not been anti-business, I wanted that to be very clear … It was that [Brown’s] messaging and what he stood for seemed to resonate more with our political action committee members.”

She said it was “fair” to characterize today’s rally as an attempt to gather the Alexander opposition behind Brown. “Whenever you have a crowded field like that, it divides those who are opposed and allows the incumbent to win,” she said.

Alexander and Brown are joined on the ballot by minister William Bennett II, lawyer/scion Kevin B. Chavous and State Board of Education member Dorothy Douglas.

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D.C. regulators were aware of potential violations; Thompson funds queried in letter

D.C. regulators were aware of potential violations; Thompson funds queried in letter
By Jim McElhatton, The Washington Times, Tuesday, March 20, 2012

D.C. campaign-finance regulators were alerted long ago about potential violations involving big contributions to city politicians from businesses owned by D.C. contractor Jeffrey E. Thompson.

But they didn’t do anything to stop the flow of corporate contributions from Mr. Thompson’s intertwined health care holdings, which combined for twice and sometimes three times the maximum legal corporate donation to politicians in a single day, records show.

Under D.C. campaign-finance law, a parent company and its subsidiaries are limited to a single campaign donation to a politician per election. But city records show multiple instances where Mr. Thompson’s D.C. Healthcare Systems and one or more of its businesses separately gave checks for the maximum donation on the same day to the same city politicians.

In 2006, for instance, then-D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray accepted three $1,500 checks from D.C. Healthcare Systems, Chartered Family Health Center and RapidTrans Inc., each the maximum donation, in his race for D.C. Council chairman. City insurance filings show Mr. Thompson’s D.C. Healthcare Systems owned both the health center and RapidTrans at the time.

Such donations, which aren’t limited to Mr. Gray, have come under sharp scrutiny after a federal raid this month on the offices and home of Mr. Thompson, whose prolific fundraising for city politicians has coincided with the award of hundreds of millions of dollars in city contracts to his health plan and accounting firm over the years.

But the question surrounding donations from Mr. Thompson’s health care holdings isn’t a new one. Indeed, it came to the attention of the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance as far back as 2002, records show.

That summer, the office issued an “interpretive opinion” in response to a letter from D.C. resident Margaret Gentry, who asked about the “appropriate disposition of excessive contributions” to then-D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz’s 2000 campaign from D.C. Chartered Health Plan, Chartered Family Health Center and RapidTrans Inc.

All three entities were owned by Mr. Thompson’s D.C. Healthcare Systems, records show. And all three separately donated money that, when combined, exceeded corporate contribution limits.

In an official response, city campaign regulators told Ms. Gentry her letter presented an issue of how the campaign “may address the excessive contribution.”

The letter also quoted city campaign-finance law, stating a “corporation, its subsidiaries, and all political committees established, financed, maintained or controlled by the corporation and its subsidiaries share a single contribution limitation.” Based on the law, the letter said, “any excessive contribution must be returned to the donor.”

Still, for years, the money continued flowing into city campaigns, records show.

Wesley Williams, a spokesman for the city’s campaign office, said Tuesday that the legal opinion’s thrust wasn’t that the companies were related, “but there may have been an excessive contribution specific to that particular committee.”

“Therefore, perhaps, there was no institutional knowledge established or maintained that these entities were possibly related,” he said. “Our database isn’t designed to track that information and over time. However, we are seeking upgrades to our electronic filing system to expand the parameters for the identification of excessive contributions.”

The Washington Times obtained a copy of the letter from the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance website.

In a brief phone interview Tuesday, Ms. Gentry said she was asked to write the letter by former council member-turned-lobbyist John Ray, who supported one of Ms. Schwartz’s opponents in the 2000 race. He did not return phone messages Tuesday. An attorney for Mr. Thompson also did not return a phone message.

While regulators and lawmakers have professed to be unaware of the ties between Mr. Thompson’s health care companies, years of filings compiled by city insurance regulators make clear the companies were not only related, but fell under the same corporate structure.

Chartered Health Plan “is a private-sector minority-owned HMO, with an affiliated health care center, Chartered Family Health Center PC, and a van transportation company, RapidTrans, as of December 31, 2007,” the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking stated in a public report.

“All companies are owned by the holding company — D.C. Healthcare Systems, which is 100 percent owned by Jeffrey E. Thompson, chairman of D.C. Chartered Health Plan.”

Should Phil Mendelson have recused himself from Noel vote?

Should Phil Mendelson have recused himself from Noel vote?

By Mike DeBonis, Posted at 04:09 PM ET, 03/20/2012TheWashingtonPost

Mendelson’s opposition to Noel vexed many longtime political supporters. (Bill O’Leary – The Washington Post) Last week, a contentious, long-running saga came to an end when a D.C. Council panel voted 3 to 2 against appointing consumer advocate Elizabeth A. Noel to the Public Service Commission, the body charged with regulating District utilities.

The key vote on the matter came from Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who is generally labor-friendly and a reliable advocate for consumer protection measures. Mendelson’s opposition to Noel fairly stunned Noel’s advocates in labor and activist groups that have generally been supportive of Mendelson in past.

Mendelson acknowledged in comments before the Thursday vote that the matter has “been one of the more uncomfortable issues I’ve had to vote on,” but said Noel lacked the “judicial temperament” for the job.

That echoed complaints raised by Pepco, the electric utility, which Noel had battled for years in her previous job as people’s counsel — a government-appointed attorney that represents the public in rate cases and other utility matters.

Pepco was the most vocal opponent to Noel, fearing that she wouldn’t give the company a fair shake on a commission that rules on its rate increase requests, among other matters. It also argued that her prior role meant she would have to recuse herself from a significant number of the commission’s current cases.

But there’s also another recusal issue at stake, having to do with Mendelson. According to his last financial disclosure statement filed with the Office of Campaign Finance, Mendelson owns Pepco Holdings stock, which raises the question of whether he has a financial conflict that should have precluded his voting on the nomination.

His Pepco stock holdings are “modest,” Mendelson said, but exceed the $5,000 threshold for disclosure.

Mendelson said the stock doesn’t represent a conflict. “That was not my consideration,” he said Monday, reiterating his objections to Noel’s “judicial temperament.” He noted that while owning the same Pepco stock he had previously supported Noel’s appointments as people’s counsel.

While Mendelson said he did not seek advice on whether the Noel confirmation representing a conflict, he noted that he had previously been cleared to vote on matter that affected a company he held stock in. In 1999, the campaign finance office ruled that he was free to vote on a merger deal involving AT&T, of which he owed 225 shares.

City law says public officials shall not “use his or her official position or office to obtain financial gain for himself or herself,” and council members are also covered by federal law barring officials from participating “personally and substantially” in decisions where they have a financial interest.

But the 1999 opinion said Mendelson involvement with AT&T was permissible, finding in the case of local law that it fell within an exception for matters where the official is part of a class of 50 or more and “the financial gain to be realized is de minimis.” With respect to federal law, the opinion found that the federal restriction extended only to voting on matters that “will have a direct and predictable effect” on the interest in question.

”A predictable effect is found where there is a real, rather than speculative, possibility that the matter will affect the financial interest,” the opinion reads. “[I]t would appear that the passage of the legislation will not have a direct and predictable effect on Mr. Mendelson’s holding of AT&T stock.”

Mendelson said he considered the Pepco situation analogous to the AT&T situation and did not seek a new opinion.

Federal law demands an official make “full disclosure of the financial interest” and “receive in advance a written determination” of the particular matter. But note that even if he had sought a new opinion, the Office of Campaign Finance couldn’t have given him one as of late January — when new ethics legislation transferred conflict of interest regulation to the new Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which is not expected to start operations until October at the earliest.

Wesley Williams, an Office of Campaign Finance spokesman, said Tuesday that in the interim, a council member could seek guidance from the Council’s general counsel or the D.C. attorney general.

Whether or not Mendelson might have run afoul of the law, he has to deal with disappointed political supporters. Jim McGrath, the veteran tenant organizer who TENAC has long backed Mendelson’s campaigns, said news of his Pepco investments “gives me real pause.”

”It’s a terrible disappointment,” he said of Mendelson’s vote on Noel. “We’ve been with him every single time, but on this vote, it’s inexplicable.”

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