Jeffrey E. Thompson
On March 1, 2012, Jeffrey E. Thompson was not a household name. The next day, when news broke of an FBI raid on his home and offices, Thompson still enjoyed relative anonymity.
Consumers of news have very little appetite for descending into rabbit holes that might not yield anything noteworthy. Beyond a few hundred local political junkies, media outlets had limited success drumming up interest in an obscure law enforcement operation. An alleged District of Columbia campaign finance scheme involving a Medicaid contractor is esoteric, and at first glance that is what the Thompson matter appeared to be.
Also, the District abounds with scandal.
Big-name politicians connected to Thompson’s questionable campaign contributions -- former Mayor Adrian Fenty, Mayor Vincent Gray, Council Chairman Kwame Brown -- have either left the building or are deeply mired in their own legal woes.
At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, who at the time of the FBI raid was weeks away from seeing his re-election bid decided in a Democratic primary, garnered the most significant Thompson-related media attention.
What we know today about the network of donors linked to Thompson and his associates has increased greatly since the day of the raid.
News reports and public records connect Thompson, his companies, associates or money to a Hollywood figure, an official from the Virgin Islands, more than 20 politicians in the District, the mayor of Atlanta, several members of Congress, a former Virginia governor, the current Maryland governor, the president of the United States and many other politicians.
That is not to say that all of these people know Thompson or were aware of his contributions.
It should also be noted that receiving campaign donations from a person who has not been charged with a crime is not a crime. To date, no one has been indicted and investigators have not said which, if any, laws may have been broken.
But the trappings of a mega-scandal-in-waiting are apparent.
We are in the middle of election season. If law enforcement takes further action against Thompson or if more damning details emerge, it is very likely that opponents of the candidates he has financed will try to make hay of connections be they solid or tangential.
Demands to return contributions and reveal past associations are time-honored techniques that can put a candidate on his heels for days. The press can also be inspired to dig deep.
It is impossible to know where the end of the road will be in this seemingly complex story of a well-connected player.
What we do know is history, and the recipe for compelling news: Take a lot of questionable money, spread it around numerous elected officials, add a touch of Hollywood, sprinkle in some Caribbean island intrigue, and bake at 400 degrees during a heated election season.
Voila! Amazing scandal on a plate.
Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant. His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at @chuckthies.