It’s not a good day for the Mayor Muriel Bowser administration or for the Office of Campaign Finance if a charge leveled today has any merit.
Public Citizen filed a complaint with the regulatory body today asking it to investigate 23 contributions amounting to $31,500 during the 2014 mayoral campaign that it says violated the legal $2,000 limit for donors.
“The public records show illegal contributions,” Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People campaign, says in a press release. “If this is due to sloppy reporting, it’s an egregious failure by the Bowser campaign and the Office of Campaign Finance. If it’s an abuse of the District’s campaign finance law, Bowser needs to be held accountable.”
She continues, “Corporate interests have been dominating D.C. elections for years, and now it appears that some of these donations are illegal. These apparent abuses highlight both the need for more rigorous enforcement by the OCF and for meaningful reform. The District Council must pass fair elections and campaign finance reform legislation to clean up elections and bring more D.C. residents—not corporate influencers—into the election process.”
The complaint notes City Paper‘s recent reporting that Bowser accepted $1,000 over the legal limit from Sanford Capital, a slumlord with hundreds of units in the District that has been repeatedly fined for violations of housing codes and consumer regulations. The situation is so bad that D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine‘s office has sued the company.
A City Paper investigation recently found that mold, vermin, broken refrigerators and toilets, children and elderly living without heat and air conditioning, and units open to vagrants no matter how many times tenants complain are standard conditions at buildings owned by Sanford.
Worse, D.C. taxpayers are subsidizing the Maryland company by the millions.
Ben Soto, who served as treasurer for Bowser’s campaign and also sits on the board of directors at EagleBank, which has provided at least $46 million in financing to Sanford for its D.C. properties, responds by email that the campaign “was always committed to full transparency and strict adherence to all campaign finance laws. The Campaign Committee reported all contributions and expenses, is not aware of any excess contributions and never intended to accept any excess contributions.”
Soto claims OCF conducted an audit of the campaign, and Bowser told FOX5 the same. According to OCF records, those claims are false.
And in a breathtaking display of hubris, Soto does not suggest in his response that the campaign has any intention of reviewing its records and returning any overages, which is standard campaign accounting procedure.
He cites a termination letter—which is distinct from an audit—that the campaign received from the OCF that says the agency found no irregularities. “Furthermore,” he writes, “the Campaign Committee received 7,079 campaign contributions. So the Public Citizens Complaint amounts to less than .005% of all contributions received.”
OCF spokesman Wesley Williams confirms that the agency has received the complaint and that it is “currently under review.” He adds, “Inquiries of this nature are confidential until completion.”
This post has been updated.