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It turns out Mayor Muriel Bowser did not violate D.C. campaign finance laws, as the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen alleged last week.
Bowser appeared on CSPAN’s Washington Journal as part of its 50 Capitals Tour today and again suggested that At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman was behind the the complaint, this time adding that it “raises a lot of issues about Public Citizen’s nonprofit status.”
Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, fired back, calling Bowser’s questioning of the organization’s tax status a “Trump-like tactic.”
“We are disappointed that the mayor would sink as low as she has,” Weissman’s statement says. “We understand the mayor is in the middle of a campaign and that sharp elbows will be thrown. But the occupant of the White House, in our city, has debased and degraded political discourse with baseless attacks on his opponents, including threatening their nonprofit tax status. We expect better from our mayor.”
In a four page opinion, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance cleared Bowser of the allegations that her campaign made illegal in-kind contributions to campaigns for two at-large Council candidates: Anita Bonds and Dionne Reeder.
Bowser endorsed Reeder, who has since seen a massive influx of donations. Reeder’s recently filed campaign finance report indicates that she received about $118,000 since October 11. Before Bowser’s endorsement, Reeder had about $2,000 cash on hand.
William SanFord, general counsel for OCF, writes in the opinion that public statements of support by the mayor at a get-out-the-vote rally paid for by her campaign do not amount to in-kind contributions.
A violation of campaign finance laws “would have required evidence that the campaigns received goods, services, property or some tangible benefit from the Re-elect Bowser Campaign,” SanFord writes.
The original complaint focused not only on Bowser’s rally, which Bonds and Reeder attended and was described in the Post’s coverage as an “effort to oust Silverman,” but also on mailers paid for and distributed by her campaign. The mailers listed Bonds and Reeder as “special guests” and featured photos of each of the three women.
Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen who filed the complaint, noted in the complaint that Reeder’s campaign coffers swelled by about $100,000 after Bowser announced her endorsement.
Silverman has acknowledged that she tipped off Public Citizen to the potential violation.
“The law is the law,” she tells the City Paper via text message.