A complaint filed Monday by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen alleges that Mayor Muriel Bowser violated city laws on campaign contributions in her get-out-the-vote rally.
The complaint, submitted by Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, says that the funds Bowser’s campaign used to rent out the Ivy City Smokehouse for a get-out-the-vote rally, as well as the mailers to advertise the event, qualify as in-kind contributions to At-large candidate Dionne Reeder and At-large Councilmember Anita Bonds’ campaigns.
“Her expenditures on the get-out-the-vote drive really has every appearance of being much more of a campaign rally for Reeder than an effort to try to mobilize voters,” Holman says. He adds that the exact dollar amounts for the mailers and the venue are not listed on Bowser’s campaign finance report, but he believes the cost exceeds the $1,000 limit for contributions to at-large candidates.
In an emailed statement, Bowser’s campaign manager, Malik Williams, suggests that the Public Citizen complaint was orchestrated by At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who is the incumbent running against Reeder. (Bonds already won the Democratic primary for her seat in June, while Silverman and Reeder are competing for the non-majority party seat.) Williams did not respond to questions about the merits of the complaint itself.
“We had heard the Silverman campaign was going to file this baseless complaint, but I guess she had Public Citizen go negative for her,” Williams writes. “Clearly, Silverman is concerned about the momentum shifting to Reeder, but going negative is not what voters want to see.”
In response to Williams’ insinuation, Silverman writes via text message: “Public Citizen is a campaign finance watchdog group. The law is the law.” She says she was aware the group was preparing to file a complaint before it dropped.
China Dickerson, who manages Reeder’s campaign, denies that Reeder is coordinating with Bowser or Bonds’ camps and declined to comment on the complaint against Bowser.
Holman’s complaint hinges on whether D.C.’s Office of Campaign Finance finds that Bowser “coordinated” with Reeder and Bonds for the get-out-the-vote rally.
In the mailers, Bowser listed Bonds and Reeder, a local business owner, as “special guests” at her October 14th rally. During the rally, the mayor threw her support behind Reeder.
Reeder’s campaign has also enjoyed an influx of about $100,000 from the mayor’s donor network, which includes government contractors, according to Holman’s complaint.
Bowser has donated a total of $200 to Reeder’s campaign. Members of Bowser’s family have donated another $250, according to campaign finance reports.
“The mailer makes clear that Bowser is coordinating with Reeder and Bonds prior to the event,” Holman says. “Clearly Bowser contacted Reeder and Bonds and got them to agree to participate. And the mailer also makes clear that Bowser paid for the whole thing.”
Mat Hanson, the director of DC Working Families, declined to comment on the complaint, but pointed to another mailer, this one from Reeder’s camp, and questioned whether it also violates campaign finance laws.
The Reeder mailer provided to City Paper features images of Reeder alongside Bowser and Bonds. It reads: “We need ALL THESE VOICES in City Government.”
Holmes, who was previously unaware of the Reeder mailer, says, “This certainly confirms the extent of the coordination between Bowser and Bonds and Reeder. They’re working hand-in-hand in launching the campaign. This is just more evidence that they are violating the campaign finance laws.”
Reeder’s campaign denies those assertions.
This post has been updated to reflect Mat Hanson’s affiliation with DC Working Families.