By William Reed
The legend of “Uncle Earl” is a lesson in Black urban politics. Businessman Jeffrey Earl Thompson is one of Washington D.C.’s “most influential Blacks.” The 58-year-old Thompson was proven to be “Uncle Earl” in court proceedings that revealed secret dealings that broke a whole host of campaign finance laws, including funneling more than $2 million to various candidates through third parties and off-the-record activities.
Thompson is the most prolific political rainmaker in the nation. Thompson allegedly gave more than $600,000 to make Vincent Gray’s campaign to unseat Adrian Fenty in the 2010 D.C. mayoral election successful. Thompson funneled more than $3.3 million in unreported donations to at least 28 local and national candidates and their campaigns beginning in 2006. The recent “guilty” plea that Thompson entered to federal conspiracy charges marks a defining moment for the self-made, immigrant businessman, who built an accounting and health care empire that gained fame and fortune.
Few Black Americans can claim credit for designing, developing and propagating a $633,000 urban shadow electoral campaign. The federal court proved that Thompson was a kingmaker who delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal “straw donor” campaign contributions to sway elections in the city and beyond. Election after election, the Jamaican-born Thompson huddled behind closed doors with candidates, political operatives, and businessmen, to devise schemes to funnel millions of dollars of corporate money into local and federal elections.
Thompson’s reach extended to Maryland’s governments and officials. A mover and shaker without peer, Thompson was schooled well in the art of politics. He solicited relatives, friends, employees and others to make donations to designated candidates and reimbursed their “conduit contributions” with personal money and money from his companies. On his company’s books, the payments were listed as “advances” and “bonuses.” Thompson’s company also paid for in-kind gifts to candidates that included $653,000 in money for the 2010 Mayoral Campaign in D.C. and $608,750 to the 2008 Hillary Clinton candidacy for president.
Many immigrants from the West Indies and African countries often far outperform American-born Blacks in business and politics. Jeffrey Earl Thompson was born in 1955 into a working-class home in Jamaica’s St. Elizabeth Parish, the youngest of 11 children. He came to Washington in 1975, earning a high school equivalency degree and putting himself through the University of the District of Columbia by working as a bookkeeper. Not long after graduating from college and interning at top accounting firms, in 1983 he founded his own company, which would become Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates. Thompson built the firm into a $300 million enterprise. Over the next two decades, he would build it into a national powerhouse among minority-owned firms, because of its ability to win local and federal government contracts. He would go on to own D.C. Chartered Health Plan, a health care firm that managed services for 100,000 residents.
By most measures Thompson would be labeled “an American success story.” So, while a number of his political cohorts are serving prison time, most Washingtonians expect that Thompson’s sentence will be reduced to six months of home confinement. Thompson moved among the highest levels of Blacks and politics in D.C. He paid $608, 750 through former White House aide Minyon Moore to hire “street teams” in four states to help boost Clinton’s campaign for the 2008 Democratic nomination.
Thompson is an important man of the times. The “shout out” he received from President Bill Clinton at the podium of a 1997 Democratic National Committee dinner at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel attests to the reach Thompson attained as he moved between City Hall and the White House. As he became “a donor of note” to D.C. and national political campaigns, Thompson cultivated close relationships with national figures, including Civil Rights icon Dorothy I. Height and former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman. Height gave Thompson instant status. Thompson met Herman through Height when the two paid an ill Height a visit. Thompson offered Herman a ride, which turned into dinner and eventually romance. Thompson escorted Herman to the 1994 state dinner for Nelson Mandela.