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A year after winning on the promise of a “fresh start” after the Vince Gray administration, Muriel Bowser’s touted ethics are looking a little stale.
Last month, Bowser pals shuttered FreshPAC, her political action committee, after criticism from the D.C. Council and media. FreshPAC, Bowser conceded, was becoming a “distraction.”
But Bowser’s campaign finance problems aren’t just about future campaigns she’ll be involved in. According to LL’s review of Bowser’s mayoral finances, her 2014 campaign accepted nearly $15,000 worth of contributions that exceeded legal limits.
The contributions, all of which exceed the $2,000 limit for donors, come from 16 different donors, ranging from corporations to individuals.
In a statement, Bowser mayoral campaign manager Bo Shuff tells LL that the campaign reviewed the contribution records.
“All of our campaign records have been subject to close internal review as well as thorough audit by the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance,” Shuff writes in an email. “To the best of our knowledge all contributions (and, where necessary, refunds) were handled totally properly and in full compliance with the law.”
The number of total over-the-limit contributions could be larger, since LL left out several over-the-limit contributions that shared the same name, but couldn’t be tied to the same person. It also doesn’t include multiple contributions from linked LLCs, which were still legal in 2014 before the Council closed the LLC loophole this year.
While accidental over-contributions are common in District campaigns, they’re usually fixed by reimbursements to the donors. Instead, more than a year after Bowser won the mayoralty in the general election, Office of Campaign Finance files don’t show reimbursements to these donors.
The 16 donors with over-the-limit contributions include the usual deep-pocketed types: law firms, developers, and a parking business. The list includes developer Blue Skye Development, whose sister company Blue Skye Construction was a $3,000 FreshPAC donor.
2014’s unusually competitive general election could also have contributed towards illicit contributions. LL counted several donors who gave Bowser the maximum ahead of her competitive primary with Gray, and then gave some more ahead of the general election. (Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans has introduced legislation that would reset the $2,000 maximum after a primary.)
It’s unlikely that Bowser or her campaign staff will face any legal trouble over the contributions, since OCF has proved reluctant to punish more grievous campaign finance violations. Currently, the agency only levels fines against the committees, not the people involved in them.
Besides, it’s unlikely the extra money, which amounts to less than one percent of Bowser’s more than $3.5 million fundraising haul, had much of an effect on the election.
Additional reporting by Cuneyt Dil
Photo by Darrow Montgomery