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Jordan Grossman‘s family is very generous—to the tune of more than $10,000.
The Ward 2 Council candidate‘s recent campaign finance report shows that his immediate family members (his brother, his mom, and his in-laws) donated a total of $10,166 to his campaign. That figure also includes the $66 Grossman gave himself.
That significant sum raised the eyebrows of some campaign spectators, who point to the D.C. law establishing the public financing system. For a ward-level candidate, contributions or loans from the candidate or their immediate family cannot exceed $2,500 in the aggregate, the law says.
LL is no lawyer, but the language seems pretty clear in its intent to limit contributions from family members to $2,500 total, not $2,500 from each family member.
The Office of Campaign Finance had a different interpretation—at least at first.
In May, Grossman says he attended a training for candidates who intended to participate in the publicly funded campaign program. Under the new program, candidates agree to accept only small-level donations from District residents, and in exchange, those donations will be matched 5-to-1 with public money. Candidates can also accept small donations from non-residents, but those funds will not be matched.
Grossman says OCF told him that each of his family members could contribute $2,500, but that the money would not be matched with public dollars. Alternatively, Grossman says, he was told that family members can contribute $2,450 in unmatched funds and separately donate $50 in matched funds.
An email exchange with Erick Jackson, the public campaigns program manager, kind of confirms Grossman’s interpretation, with a slight tweak.
“Family members can loan the campaign up to $2,500,” Jackson writes in an email to Grossman. “Family member[s] are subject to the contribution limit of $50.00. Therefore family members can make a loan up to $2,500.00 and a contribution of $50.00.”
In a follow-up, Grossman points out that the law says “contribution or loan,” and Jackson responds that “immediate family member(s) are eligible to make contributions and or loans the the candidate.”
“Thanks so much,” Grossman writes. “As I mentioned, I believe several members of my immediate family may contribute up to $2,500 each, so I appreciate you clarifying this.”
When LL inquired with OCF last Friday, spokesperson Wesley Williams responded in line with Jackson—almost.
Williams wrote last week that a candidate’s family members can each donate $2,500, “however the contribution(s) would not qualify for matching funds.”
In a follow-up conversation, Williams said “either you contribute $50 and that’ll be matched or you make a contribution as a family member that’s not matched,” which contradicts Grossman’s understanding that family members can donate twice and have one donation count toward matched funds.
“It’s not like a family member could give $2,450 and then give $50 as a match,” Williams said. “That’s not allowed.”
Yesterday, Williams emailed to correct himself.
“I was incorrect,” he writes. “After further review consultation with … our General Counsel, as it stands now, it is $2,500 in the aggregate (not per family member). However, this matter and others regarding contributions from family members to candidates in the Fair Elections Program is under review and an official opinion from this Office is forthcoming.”
Grossman, for his part, says he’s proud of the family support he’s received and considers this a “technical, logistical issue.”
“I’m really proud of all the contributions we received, all of which were received in accordance with the OCF,” he says. When asked whether he would refund portions of family donations that potentially violate the law, he says he is “eager to follow the rules.”
In addition to Grossman, four other candidates have officially qualified for the public campaign funding program. Three of them are also looking to unseat Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. The fourth is running against Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray. (Janeese Lewis George, a candidate for the Ward 4 seat, also intends to participate in the program but registered her campaign after the finance report deadline. Her campaign staff says she has already crossed the threshold to qualify for public funding.)
Grossman leads the Ward 2 field with $37,623 in total donations, $19,512 (or 51 percent) of which came from his family or out-of-town donors.
LL has to wonder whether the nearly $20,000 conflicts with the spirit of the law, which is aimed at leveling the playing field for grassroots candidates who don’t have access to personal wealth or a network of deep-pocketed donors.
Grossman counters by saying the $18,111 in donations from District residents, when matched with public dollars, will make up the bulk of his funds.
Ward 2 candidates Kishan Putta and Patrick Kennedy have each raised about $12,000, according to their campaign finance reports. John Fanning has about $6,000 in the bank, and Daniel Hernandez has yet to file a report.
Kennedy is the only other candidate to accept money from family members (his parents and stepparent gave him $50 each, and his brother donated $50), but he declined to comment on Grossman’s finance report.
“I thought it was self-evident from the regulations that there was an aggregate limit of $2,500 from all family members,” Kennedy says. “I think the law was written in such a way that I’m surprised to hear there was an alternative interpretation.”