If you want to understand how money and politics intersect in D.C. in ways that make it abundantly clear that the rich and powerful control the game, witness two news events of the past week. What a display of raw money and power! On Tuesday, the city council heard from community groups and advocates who pleaded for city funds now that the government is trying to trim $188 million from its budget. It was both heartening and sad to see so many well-meaning people on their knees before the council.
In a perfect counterpoint, the next day incoming Mayor Vince Gray divulged the big bucks and the donors who have ponied up $180,000 to finance his transition team and his inaugural festivities. Some of the region's fattest cats bellied up to Gray's bar and plunked down $25,000 to help him celebrate his victory over Adrian Fenty.
Can you say: "Pay to play?"
It used to be that developers and investors who wanted to do business with the city had to abide by some rules. They were limited to $2,000 in contributions to a candidate. Of course they often bundled their donations. They would donate $2,000 in the names of their wives and cousins and grandkids and employes. Maybe they could scrape together $20,000.
If they wanted to skirt the law, the could drop off bags of cash or take politicians or bureaucrats on fancy golfing trips and such.
But Gray and incoming council Chairman Kwame Brown brushed aside the rules governing how much fat cats could give them. In the name of fiscal prudence, in an era of tight budgets, Gray said any business could give as much as $50,000 to help him form a government and party. Brown said: me, too.
So we see Franklin Haney Jr. giving Gray $25,000. By disclosing the donor and the amount, Gray pays his respects to transparency. What's transparent is that Haney's development company is angling to develop choice city-owned property along the Anacostia River.
Is there anyone out there who doesn't think Haney's $25,000 will buy him special treatment when it comes to awarding the development deal?
Same for Calvin Cafritz, who gave Gray $25,000. His family foundation wants to build on city property near Fort Totten Metro in D.C.'s east end. Ditto Foulger-Pratt, a Rockville developer that donated $20,000. It craves a project on prime Georgia Avenue land just north of Missouri Avenue.
So while worthy community leaders -- such as Sharon Baskerville of the DC Primary Care Association -- have to beg for the council's attention, the monied and powerful can just pay for it. If Gray gets calls at the same time from Baskerville and Frank Haney, which will he take?
So let's follow the money. If Haney, Cafritz and Foulger-Pratt get development deals, we will know that pay to play works well in D.C.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.