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Dispute Over D.C. Parking Meter Contract Shines Light On Claims Of Pay-To-Play

The fight over D.C.'s $33 million parking meter contract is shining light on what critics say is the city's pervasive pay-to-play politics.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/daniellittlewood/412748402/
The fight over D.C.'s $33 million parking meter contract is shining light on what critics say is the city's pervasive pay-to-play politics.

A debate over a parking meter contract at the D.C. Council is raising questions about the role of Council members and campaign donations in local government contracting.

In 2012, Rockville-based WorldWide Parking submitted a bid for the lucrative contract to maintain the city's parking meters. Later that year, the city awarded the $33 million contract to Xerox. Since that decision was handed down, WorldWide Parking has filed formal appeals, while at the same time finding an ally in Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large), who has questioned the city's decision.

Orange isn't only a concerned legislator, though — he's also the largest recipient of the company's campaign contributions.

By using its affiliated companies to make donations — a legal practice that lets a business owner essentially exceed contribution limits — WorldWide Parking, its affiliates and employees have donated over $40,000 to Orange since 2010. The practice, which critics deride as being at the heart of much of the corruption in D.C.'s government, was recently outlawed by the Council, though the new law banning bundling does not take effect until 2015.

The parking meter contract was the subject of a Council hearing Monday, but soon devolved into a discussion about the $20,000 in “bundled” campaign donations that WorldWide Parking made to Orange for his current mayoral run. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), asked WorldWide Parking’s owner Marc Meisel what he was thinking when he gave money to Orange, as well as lesser amounts to other mayoral candidates Jack Evans and Muriel Bowser.

“What was it you hoped to gain by giving this fairly large amount of bundled money on these dates, all from the same address to Council members?”," asked Cheh.

“Supporting the Council members running for mayor,” responded Meisel.

Orange fought back by turning to another witness at the hearing, Pedro Alfonso, a local contractor who ended up on the winning team for the parking meter contract. Orange asked Alfonso if he or his company had ever made donations to any Council members. The contractor repeatedly told Orange that he had, but “not in the amount of $20,000.”

Orange: "In fact, you have made contributions to my campaigns before, is that correct?"

Alfonso: "Yes, but not in the amount of $20,000."

Orange: "And when you made these contributions did you expect anything from me, making these contributions?”

Alfonso: “If I would have made $20,000, yes.”

Orange defended himself by saying that he’s been asking questions about the parking meter contract since 2012, more than a year before the donations from World Wide Parking to his mayoral campaign. But what Orange did not note is that WorldWide Parking's donations to him date back two years prior, to 2010, and total $42,500 in all.

Council Member David Grosso (I-At Large), who attended the hearing, said that the revelations about the parking contract and campaign contributions may make him break his habit of abstaining on Council votes on contracts. Since joining the Council earlier this year Grosso has complained that the Council's practice of voting on contracts worth more than $1 million breeds corruption.

World Wide Parking Donations

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