Bruce Spiva
Bruce Spiva fell short in the attorney general's race, but did successfully get Kenyan McDuffie off the ballot. Credit: Bruce Spiva for AG

Brian Schwalb has to be glad he was able to stay out of the ballot access fight between Kenyan McDuffie and Bruce Spiva for all sorts of reasons. For one, he got to stay above the fray and cruise to a win in the attorney general primary. For another, he didn’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Whenever there are lawyers present, big bills seem to pile up, so it’s hardly shocking to see so many zeros associated with the legal tussle over whether McDuffie was eligible to run for AG this spring. But the latest campaign finance reports, filed Wednesday, finally reveal exactly how much money flew around in the months-long fight that completely upended D.C. politics: The two candidates combined for at least $215,000 in spending on legal fees through the end of June.

The outgoing Ward 5 councilmember was the big spender of the pair, which probably makes his losses at both the Board of Elections and Court of Appeals all the more painful. He paid Arnold & Porter LLP more than $140,100 on May 25, sent more than $10,200 to Sandler, Reiff, Lamb, Rosenstein & Birkenstock, P.C. on May 4, and handed over a combined $36,680 across two checks to Goldblatt Martin Pozen LLP. All three firms were listed among McDuffie’s representatives in his appeals court challenge to the board’s ruling kicking him off the ballot, though Thorn Pozen, a very well-connected lawyer and lobbyist, was the main attorney arguing McDuffie’s case in both proceedings.

Spiva, by contrast, got a bargain. He paid Wiley Rein LLP $30,000 on June 29, per his Aug. 10 campaign finance report, to secure the services of Ted Howard, himself a pretty big name in D.C. legal circles. That’s the first bit of legal spending Spiva’s campaign has yet to report (though, technically, he could always report more as he winds down his campaign committee). Spiva also reported spending about $2,100 with his old law firm, Perkins Coie, on April 6, about a week after he first challenged McDuffie’s eligibility with the BOE, but it’s unclear whether that was related to the legal fight, as he reported it as a “consulting” expense.

But even if Spiva scored some legal savings, he clearly needed cash. He reported giving his campaign another $214,378 between June 11 and Aug. 10, bringing his total direct contributions to his AG bid to just over $327,400 for the duration of his campaign. And that’s in addition to the $535,000 he loaned the campaign, money he’s said in the past he does not expect to see paid back (though it will be worth watching if he holds to that pledge, now that a recent Supreme Court ruling has nullified a D.C. law limiting how much money candidates can raise to retire campaign debts).

After paying staff and settling other campaign expenses, Spiva reported just $37 left in his accounts, so he burned through a truly impressive amount of his own money on his way to earning 36.8 percent of the vote to Schwalb’s 45.3 percent. At least he can say that he’s one of the most prolific self-funders in recent D.C. history.

McDuffie’s small silver lining is that most of the money he spent comes from public coffers, rather than his own pockets (or his donors’). He had to return the roughly $557,600 he had left in his campaign account, which he did on July 27.

The bad news is that McDuffie can’t use the Fair Elections program again as he pivots to an independent bid in the at-large Council race this fall. But his new campaign is still getting off to a booming financial start, drawing in more than $252,000 in contributions as of Aug. 10. Not bad considering he only entered the race on July 1.

It sure helps that he can accept much larger checks now that he’s fundraising the traditional way again, and he’s certainly taking advantage of that capability. Prolific lobbyist David Carmen started urging his associates to donate to McDuffie last month, and the candidate has drawn plenty of the “maximum $1,000” checks Carmen mentioned in his fundraising email.

The Green Team, in particular, is represented heavily among McDuffie’s donors. There are plenty of pals of Mayor Muriel Bowser like Buwa Binitie, Max Brown, Chico Horton, Brian Kenner, Josh Lopez, Ben Soto, Courtney Snowden, and Brandon Todd listed on McDuffie’s report, alongside lots of checks from some companies with close ties to the administration. Executives at favorite Bowser developer MRP Realty chipped in a total of $8,500, while Blue Skye Construction handed over $4,000.

There’s even $500 from Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (and another $150 from his partner, Ana Harvey). That’s probably no great surprise given Mendelson’s feelings about McDuffie’s main competitor, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman.

For her part, she reported raising a total of $61,000 over the two-month period, including $38,300 in matching public funds and $20,400 from D.C. residents (which will eventually be matched on a five-to-one basis). Perhaps her most surprising contribution came from Tom Borger of the major landlord Borger Management—the pair have not always seen eye-to-eye on landlord-tenant issues, but the pair did recently serve together on a mayoral “strike force” on the city’s rental market.

She reported about $152,600 in the bank to McDuffie’s $243,900 (and seems to have spent another $7,000 on a poll via Public Policy Polling as of July 20).

As for the other at-large candidates, Graham McLaughlin reported raising $7,895 and having $95,800 in the bank. Karim Marshall and At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, the Democratic nominee and heavy favorite for one of the two seats on the ballot, have yet to report their fundraising figures.