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The payments from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s campaign to Kimberly Lockett started just before the primary election.
On June 11, eight days before primary voting, Lockett was paid $26,500 for work as a “consultant,” campaign finance reports show.
On June 21, two days after Bowser won 80 percent of the democratic vote, effectively sewing up a historic second term, Lockett was paid $3,200.
But it was the Bowser campaign’s latest payment to Lockett—of $62,350—on October 20 that raised the eyebrows of local experts and the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance. That payment is recorded on Bowser’s “8 Day Pre General Election Report,” which covers October 11 through 29th.
Altogether, that’s $92,050 for five months of work, paid to an individual consultant during a race in which Bowser faced only nominal competition.
When City Paper reached out to the Bowser campaign in late October asking for specifics on Lockett’s scope and duration of work, campaign coordinator Malik Williams would not release any details.
“All contributions and expenditures are publicly reported,” Williams wrote via email at the time. “However, we do not discuss specific campaign tactics. Our goal for the next week is similar to that of all campaigns: getting out the vote.”
Williams has since not returned calls seeking further explanation. Efforts to reach Lockett were unsuccessful. (Bowser recommended Lockett for an appointment to the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission in 2015, a positions she still holds.)
Since then, OCF has confirmed to City Paper that its auditors are asking for more information from the Bowser campaign on Lockett’s work. The campaign has until November 17 to respond, an OCF official says.
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For Dorothy Brizill, a longtime D.C. government watchdog, the large sum of money and the Bowser campaign’s refusal to release specific details of Lockett’s work are emblematic of an issue that’s plagued local elections in recent years. Brizill has watched campaigns shell out big paydays to “self employed” individuals for “consultant” work, but not give further explanation. Bowser’s campaign finance reports list Lockett as “self employed” and she was paid for consulting work.
“There is no reason why Bowser and her people should try to keep information regarding campaign expenditures secret,” Brizill tells City Paper via email. “You cannot raise and expend funds for a campaign for a political office and then try to claim that such information is ‘protected’ in order to shield ‘campaign tactics.’ Moreover, the campaign is over. Who are Bowser and her people trying to protect, other than themselves?”
Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen, joins in Brizill’s suspicion. (Holman previously filed a complaint alleging Bowser violated campaign finance laws during a get-out-the-vote rally where she was joined by Councilmember Anita Bonds and then-at-large candidate Dionne Reeder. Bowser was cleared of any violations.)
“Kim Lockett is being paid an extraordinary amount as an individual for consulting services,” Holman says after reviewing Bowser’s finance reports. “It’s as much as she’s paid some business firms for consulting.”
For example, the Bowser campaign paid Resonance Campaigns $179,238 in October alone and paid the company 270 Strategies at least $90,000 from March to July. Hart Research Associates received $41,000 from the Bowser campaign in January, and the company Community Economics was reportedly paid $100,972 from June through October. Williams, a campaign coordinator for Bowser, received at least $102,000 from January through October, according to campaign finance reports.
“Perhaps the issue isn’t that serious when the expenditure amount is small but, increasingly, large sums of money are being spent by campaigns without the detailed information that the law requires,” Brizill writes in an email. “As a result, regulators and campaign watchdogs have no idea as to what is actually going on in many D.C .campaigns. In addition, under such circumstances, it is easy for campaign funds to be misappropriated and/or diverted to illegal purposes.”