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Bowser Sinks Low by Engaging in Trump-Like Tactics in Wake of Public Citizen’s Campaign Finance Complaint

Nov. 1, 2018

Bowser Sinks Low by Engaging in Trump-Like Tactics in Wake of Public Citizen’s Campaign Finance Complaint

Statement of Public Citizen Experts

“It is beneath Mayor Muriel Bowser to engage in Trump-like tactics and question the tax status of an organization that has filed a complaint (PDF) about her alleged violation of campaign finance laws.

“As Mayor Bowser knows, Public Citizen has a long history of advocating for campaign finance laws that empower voters and combat undue corporate influence. In the District, we were strong advocates of the Fair Elections Act, which the mayor signed into law – after initially opposing it. And we are strongly supporting legislation to restrict the ability of D.C. government contractors to spend money to influence elections.

“Mayor Bowser also knows that we have a long history of filing ethics and campaign finance complaints. A complaint we filed last year about the mayor’s 2014 election fundraising required her to return campaign contributions in excess of the D.C. maximum limit.

“Our decision in late October to file a request for investigation into whether the mayor’s campaign made illegal in-kind campaign contributions to At-Large Council candidates Dionne Reeder and Anita Bonds was based on our independent assessment of the available facts. The mayor knows better than to state that Councilmember Elissa Silverman was ‘behind’ our complaint.

“We are disappointed that the mayor would sink as low as she has. We understand the mayor is in the middle of a political campaign and that sharp elbows will be thrown. But the occupant of the White House, in our own city, has debased and degraded political discourse with baseless attacks on his opponents, including by threatening their nonprofit tax status. We expect better from our mayor.”

Robert Weissman, president, Public Citizen

“On Wednesday, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) dismissed a complaint by Public Citizen against Mayor Muriel Bowser that requested an investigation into whether Mayor Bowser made illegal in-kind campaign contributions to At-Large Council candidates Dionne Reeder and Anita Bonds.

The OCF failed to address the District’s standard for illegal coordination. Instead, the agency focused on the irrelevant question of who ‘hosted’ an event sponsored by Mayor Bowser, but ignored the crucial question of whether Reeder and Bonds were ‘materially involved’ in the event, as we believe they seemed to be.

“The agency also said that Public Citizen did not have sufficient evidence to prove its case.

“We believe that we offered more than sufficient evidence that a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) rally, paid for entirely by the Bowser campaign, was intended to be and in fact was a campaign rally to showcase the Council candidates, especially Dionne Reeder.

“The campaign purpose of the rally is aptly described by the Washington Blade:

‘The rally, held at the Ivy City Smokehouse restaurant in Northeast D.C., was billed as an event to encourage residents to vote for Bowser, who’s running for re-election, and other local Democratic candidates, including Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who spoke the rally.

“But it became clear to nearly all who attended the event that the mayor organized it mostly to showcase Reeder, who is challenging incumbent Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large).’

“At the rally, Reeder played a prominent role, was highly praised by Mayor Bowser as the candidate who knows how to ‘bring people together from across eight wards of Washington, D.C.’ Both Bowser and Reeder repeatedly pushed their campaign theme of policies that place ‘D.C. first.’ They both described how others on the Council erringly advocate for ‘national’ policies.

“Bowser is certainly allowed to pay for a campaign rally for Reeder – as long as it is done as an independent expenditure, without the material involvement of Reeder in the timing, planning or conduct of the campaign rally and districtwide mailers advertising the rally and candidate Reeder.

“We believe that the communications, planning and participation of At-Large Council candidates Reeder and Bonds in Mayor Bowser’s GOTV campaign, as evidenced by the candidates’ prominent display in the advertisements prior to the rally and prominent role at the rally itself, make for material involvement and coordination in the GOTV campaign. As a result, the coordinated expenditures by Mayor Bowser would constitute an illegal in-kind contribution to the candidates and undermine the District’s contribution limits.

“OCF should have found this to violate the District’s campaign finance laws.”

– Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division