The leaders behind the campaign to get D.C. voters to write in Adrian M. Fenty on their general election ballots last year may be fined $18,500 for improperly using the former mayor's campaign materials during their campaign.
The decision, handed down Friday by the Office of Campaign Finance, could be a crippling financial hit to a group of young adults who organized a write-in campaign through Facebook and other social media that drew thousands of votes.
After Mayor Vincent C. Gray defeated Fenty in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, the write-Fenty-in campaign formed the Save DC Now political committee to try to convince voters to write in Fenty in the November election.
Josh Lopez, 26, who worked as Fenty's ward coordinator, spearheaded the effort. Operating on a shoestring budget, Lopez and other leaders of the Save DC Now committee used unused campaign signs, leaflets and stickers to try to get voters to write in Fenty instead of supporting Gray.
But Dorothy Brizill, a community activist and blogger, and Brian Lederer, a lawyer for the Gray campaign, filed a complaint with the Office of Campaign Finance. They alleged that campaign finance laws forbid a political community from using materials paid for by another.
The day before the November election, the Office of Campaign Finance filed a "cease and desist" order requiring the write-in campaign to stop using Fenty campaign materials. According to a ruling issued Friday, the Office of Campaign Finance says their staff discovered on Election Day that the order was ignored.
"The Office of Campaign Finance Staff observed violations of the Cease and Desist Orders at precinct Nos. 1,6,15,22, 25,30,31,32,33,34,35,36, 37,41,52,53, 54,61, 62,63, 67,69,71,77, 89,90,102,103,109,110,114,115,122,128, 129,134 and 140 during the 2010 General Election," the ruling states, issuing a penalty of $500 per violation.
Lopez, who is running for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, called the $18,500 fine "historic and unconscionable."
The proposed fine, which could still be reversed by the director of the Office of Campaign Finance, was addressed to Junius Carter, 28, who served as the treasurer for Save DC Now.
He and Lopez are reaching out to an attorney to see if they, or the committee, are personally liable for the possible fine.
"It's political intimidation," said Lopez, who said he plans to appeal the ruling. "We are going to spread the word that they have decided to go after those who expressed their right to write in Fenty....To fine a committee that only raised $7,000 $18,000 is a little bit ridiculous."
A spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance was not immediately available to comment.
In an interview, Brizill said she doubts Carter or Lopez will be personally liable for the fine. But Brizill said she hopes the ruling "sends a strong message" that activists and politicians should heed campaign finance regulations.
"I am just tired of people violating our campaign finance laws," Brizill said. "It was very clear what they did was wrong .. A substantial fine does get people's attention. Now, whether or not the District will ever recover that, I doubt it."
This post was updated at 6:37 p.m.