A government watchdog group has accused D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) of violating campaign finance rules by holding a rally to boost council candidates in the most competitive race of the November general election.
The complaint filed by Public Citizen alleges that the Bowser campaign’s Oct. 14 get-out-the-vote rally featuring at-large council contenders Anita Bonds (D) and Dionne Reeder (I) constituted an improper donation to their campaigns.
It’s not unusual for elected officials to campaign for other candidates. But Public Citizen, a nonprofit organization advocating to reduce the influence of money in politics, said Bowser appeared to have crossed a line by spending campaign funds on the event.
A mailer advertising the rally sent to households across the city and signs posted at the event described it as a “get-out-the-vote” rally and referred to the two candidates as “special guests.” Bowser, who faces no serious competition in November, endorsed Bonds and Reeder at rally.
In its complaint, Public Citizen said the event appeared to be coordinated with Bonds and Reeder and therefore subject to a $1,000 limit for in-kind campaign contributions. The complaint cited no specific evidence of coordination, but urged campaign finance officials to investigate.
“Though total expenditures by Mayor Bowser on the GOTV campaign have yet to be reported, it is very likely that the expenses far exceed a $1,000 in-kind donation to each of the candidates,” Craig Holman, a Public Citizen lobbyist, wrote in the complaint.
The complaint is the latest in a bitter council race where Reeder is trying to unseat D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large). Bowser has mobilized her political and donor network on behalf of Reeder, helping her to raise money, promoting her on social media and criticizing Silverman. Voters can choose two candidates for two at-large seats, but one of the seats is reserved for a candidate who is not a Democrat. Bonds, the only Democrat on the ballot, is widely expected to be reelected, leaving Silverman and Reeder to battle over the remaining seat.
The Bowser campaign did not directly respond to Public Citizen’s allegations but accused Silverman of engineering the complaint.
“We had heard the Silverman campaign was going to file this baseless complaint, but I guess she had Public Citizen go negative for her,” said Malik Williams, Bowser’s reelection campaign manager. “Clearly, Silverman is concerned about the momentum shifting to Reeder but going negative is not what voters want to see.”
Both Silverman and Holman acknowledged that it was the lawmaker who alerted Public Citizen to the matter. But Holman said he’s not taking sides in the race.
“We don’t want to be in a position of promoting anyone’s candidacies; all I want to do is stop Bowser from violating the contribution limits,” said Holman in an interview.
Silverman, who said she hadn’t seen the complaint, said the city’s campaign finance officials informally told her that the rally did not violate rules.
Wesley Williams, a spokesman for the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, said the agency is reviewing the Public Citizen complaint. He did not respond to a question about Silverman’s contention that she was told the rally was not a violation.
Public Citizen also filed a complaint against Bowser for excess campaign contributions during her 2014 campaign. Campaign finance officials fined Bowser $13,000 as a result.