By Isaac Arnsdorf, WashingtonPost.com
D.C. Council members have used an independent nonprofit organization to steer millions of taxpayer dollars to favored charities, often with ties to friends or campaign donors, a Washington Post review shows.
The organization, the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., was created by the council to decide independently which local charities best address problems facing city youths. But The Post’s review found that council members often influence those decisions, sometimes without public bids and despite a council ban on earmarks.
The trust was the go-between used by council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who recently settled a city lawsuit that had alleged he used trust grants for a luxury sport-utility vehicle and personal travel. Although there is no indication that other council members have financially benefited, some critics say the council members have used the trust in ways the council did not intend when it created the trust in 1999.
Several private donors have become so disenchanted with the trust that they have stopped participating in it. The trust’s board members are appointed by city officials, and it uses a combination of city funds and private donations, with most coming from taxpayers.
City officials directed more than $ 15 million in the past four years to the trust through earmarks or designated grants. The earmarks, which were standard practice until last year, specified a group without bidding. Under the ban on earmarks, designated grants specified only a purpose that required bidding, but some officials helped choose the recipients.
●Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) secured $ 387,000 from the trust for an ice arena whose board over time donated more than $ 13,000 to 10 city officials, including $ 550 to Alexander’s 2007-08 campaign.