Tommy Wells Falls Behind in Fundraising for Mayoral Race
by Larry Janezich
Paperwork filed with the DC Office of Campaign Finance reveals that rival candidates for mayor Muriel Bowser and Jack Evans have far outpaced Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells in their efforts to build a campaign war chest. Evans has amassed $768,475 thus far and Bowser $708,981, while Tommy Wells has only managed to raise $319,708.
Many observers of DC politics would probably guess that the discrepancy between Wells and the other councilmembers running for mayor can be explained by the fact that Bowser and Evans accept corporate contributions, including the notoriously generous set of interests grouped around real estate development.
But this is not an adequate explanation. A close analysis of Tommy Wells’ campaign records demonstrates that Wells accepts individual contributions from developers and related interests, and that, while his refusal to accept corporate contributions may partly account for his lag in fundraising efforts, developers and associated interests have been major contributors to his campaign.
For its analysis, CHC examined the major donors to the campaign, bearing in mind that the law permits a corporate entity or an individual to contribute a maximum $2000. (For a point of reference, CHC calculates that at least 32% of Tommy Wells’ totals to date are $2,000 donors, while for Bowser it is 53% and for Evans it is 57%. Wells’ ratio cannot be calculated with the same degree of accuracy because his exploratory committee records, which cover January 2013 to April 2013, are available only in paper format – rather than electronic spreadsheet. Further, since the Wells campaign submitted the exploratory records before the DC Office of Campaign Finance began online posting, they are available only after contacting the DC Office of Campaign Finance. Therefore, donors who contributed to the exploratory committee and to the campaign for a total of $2,000 are difficult to track, thus the 32% is a conservative estimate. For those with further interest, Wells’ exploratory finance records have been posted in the Library at the top of the page.)
The single largest contributor to Tommy Wells’ campaign is Tommy Wells himself, with a $10,000 contribution to this exploratory committee and a total $5,747.27 to his principal campaign. There is no limitation on what a candidate can give to his or her own campaign.
Considered as a set of interests, real estate developers account for 41% of the amount generated by large donors to the campaign: $43,500 out of $104,975. The worksheet posted below as a separate blog entry distills these interests into three categories: the Hine Development; Restaurateur/Developer Xavier Cervera & Associates; and Other Developers/Related Interests.
Cervera and Barracks Row restaurant employees contributed $6000. The Hine group total of $7,750 also includes real estate agents working from Caldwell Bankers’ 605 Pennsylvania Avenue address, which readers of this blog will remember generated a number of the letters (including form letters) written in support of Hine Development, and is an address still listed as a professional address for Hine principal Kitty Kaupp on her website. Other Developers/Related Interests contributed $29,750. For a list of the contributions associated with these three categories as well as other major contributors who gave an additional $70,500 and who can’t easily be put in (or absolutely excluded from) any category, see the Work Sheet posted as a separate entry on CHC, here: http://bit.ly/1jmOpC7
Bowser’s and Evans’ margin of $2000 donors was 23% – 25% greater than Wells’. Does this mean that Evans and Bowser benefited more percentage wise from corporate contributions than Wells? The answer to this is problematic because it’s impossible to know if individual corporate officers would contribute the maximum to Wells if corporate contributions could be accepted. However, Bowser and Evans accept that money openly, whereas Wells presents himself as without ties to development corporations and only a significant research effort can reveal otherwise.
Concerning the Hine development, Wells said in response to questions put to him by CHC, “I have received far more contributions from residents living around the Eastern Market neighborhood than I have from principals in the Hine project.”
The validity of this claim rests upon how you define “around” and who wants to make the effort to calculate it. In a preliminary test using contributions from residents on 7th, 8th, and 9th Streets, CHC found that this was not the case. Again, efforts to measure are complicated by the fact that Wells’ exploratory committee forms are available in paper format only. And it is clear that many of the large contributions from hard-to-categorize donors came from those who were strong supporters of Stanton/Eastbanc’s Hine bid or from those who would benefit directly or indirectly from the Hine project. A case in point is the significant difference in contributions from Barracks Row and local businesses versus contributions from the H Street business corridor.
Wells’ efforts to build a firewall between his campaign and corporate influence may have harmed his fund raising efforts. Still, within his own Ward 6, the record shows that there is a back door by which corporations can make their influence felt.
Wells’ contributions from the Hine development has come under scrutiny by WAMU’s reporting series: “In Fight for Deals, Developers Make Well-timed Contributions,” (http://wamu.org/news/13/05/23/timing_of_campaign_contributions_examined). In that report, Wells justified his acceptance of $3,500 (also individual contributions) in the 2010 election cycle by noting that he had already voted on the Land Disposition Act for the Hine Development, and hence the opportunity to “influence” him had passed.
Readers of this blog will remember that 1) prior to his vote on the Hine LDA, Wells refused to intervene in the disposition process to modify the height of the development, noting that all such concerns would be addressed during the PUD process; 2) during a community meeting which drew over 200 Ward 6 constituents in 2012, residents asked Wells to use his influence in the PUD process to take down the height of the proposed development, and he refused, saying he would back what ANC6b could achieve; 3) since the LDA vote, Tommy Wells has cast votes to extend financial deadlines for the developers (December 2010; June 2013); and 4) the Hine Coalition asked Wells to investigate the public subsidy of community benefits Stanton/Eastbanc claimed for the Hine Development and he did not.
It may be that efforts to reform campaign finance will only serve to push the funneling of money further underground, creating a daunting research task for someone who would need time and extensive knowledge about city politics in order to connect all of the dots. It may also be that using good judgment and fair play as a councilmember when considering developments in your ward, including taking ownership of and responsibility for developments located at prestige addresses in the crown jewel of your neighborhood, is the best campaign maneuver of all, one that motivates support rather than apathy, and encourages approval rather than curiosity.