Bowser cam­paign fined $13,000 af­ter ex­ces­sive con­tri­bu­tions.

Reg­u­la­tors levy $13,000 fine af­ter com­mit­tee au­dit

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY RYAN M. MCDER­MOTT

D.C. reg­u­la­tors fined Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 2014 cam­paign com­mit­tee $13,000 af­ter an au­dit un­cov­ered more than a dozen “ex­ces­sive con­tri­bu­tions,” sev­eral of them from real es­tate de­vel­op­ers and con­trac­tors.

The Bowser cam­paign ac­cepted 13 con­tri­bu­tions over the le­gal limit to­tal­ing $11,271, the D.C. Of­fice of Cam­paign Fi­nance ruled late Tuesday. The cam­paign col­lected a to­tal of about $3.6 mil­lion.

D.C.-area de­vel­op­ers San­ford Cap­i­tal LLC, Keystone Plus Con­struc­tion Corp., Four Points LLC and Foul­ger-Pratt Con­tract­ing LLC pro­vided some of the ex­ces­sive Bowser cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions, ac­cord­ing to the au­dit.

The D.C. gov­ern­ment has twice sued San­ford Cap­i­tal, which has racked up hun­dreds of fines for hous­ing code vi­o­la­tions that the city says have left ten­ants with bed­bugs and ro­dents and with­out heat and hot wa­ter. In ad­di­tion, the Dis­trict in 2013 sued Keystone Plus for $2 mil­lion over botched con­struc­tion of a nurs­ing home, ac­cord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Busi­ness Jour­nal.

The Of­fice of Cam­paign Fi­nance be­gan its au­dit af­ter Aquene Freechild of Pub­lic Ci­ti­zen’s “Democ­racy Is for Peo­ple” cam­paign lodged a com­plaint about 23 re­ported in­stances of Bowser cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions over the le­gal limit. Ms. Freechild said the mayor owes res­i­dents of the Dis­trict more than pay­ment of a fine.

“The mayor has yet to apol­o­gize to the pub­lic for tak­ing il­le­gal money — that’s the min­i­mum we should ex­pect,” she said Tuesday. “Our elected of­fi­cials should be the first to obey the laws they en­act and sign.”

In­di­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tions can­not ex­ceed $2,000 to can­di­dates for mayor, $1,500 to can­di­dates for D.C. Coun­cil

chair­man, $1,000 to at-large coun­cil can­di­dates and $500 to con­tenders for ward coun­cil seats.

Miss Bowser, a Demo­crat, did not re­turn re­quests for com­ment. Her 2014 cam­paign chair­man, Bill Light­foot, said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day that the cam­paign made a good-faith ef­fort to com­ply with all reg­u­la­tions. He said the cam­paign “im­me­di­ately acted and vol­un­tar­ily re­funded the con­tri­bu­tions” once the er­rors were pointed out.

He said the Of­fice of Cam­paign Fi­nance levied the fine “de­spite that ad­di­tional good faith ef­fort” to re­turn the ex­cess funds. Mr. Light­foot did not say whether the cam­paign would ap­peal the fine, but he did take the op­por­tu­nity to ding the of­fice for run­ning an out­dated sys­tem.

“We are pleased that the [Of­fice of

Cam­paign Fi­nance] has ac­knowl­edged the cam­paign’s co­op­er­a­tion through­out this process and … is mak­ing tech­nol­ogy up­grades to be more con­sis­tent in its guid­ance and over­sight go­ing for­ward,” the for­mer Bowser cam­paign chair­man said.

The rul­ing on the Bowser cam­paign was is­sued a week af­ter reg­u­la­tors fined coun­cil mem­ber Bran­don Todd $5,100 for his cam­paign’s fail­ure to doc­u­ment more than $100,000 in con­tri­bu­tions dur­ing the 2015 spe­cial elec­tion.

Mr. Todd, a Demo­crat, served as Miss Bowser’s fi­nance di­rec­tor dur­ing her 2014 may­oral bid. He was the hand-picked suc­ces­sor for Miss Bowser’s Ward 4 coun­cil seat when she left to be­come mayor.

Ben Soto served as cam­paign trea­surer for Mr. Todd’s 2015 spe­cial elec­tion run and Miss Bowser’s 2014 may­oral bid. He

also helped run the po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee FreshPAC, which was af­fil­i­ated with Miss Bowser.

Mr. Soto sold his $1.2 mil­lion D.C. house to City Ad­min­is­tra­tor Rashad Young, who se­cured his home loan through Ea­gle Bank, where Mr. Soto sits on the board of di­rec­tors. Mr. Young has since said that the sale price and loan were both at mar­ket rate.

Mr. Soto de­clined to an­swer ques­tions about his in­volve­ment in the Todd and Bowser cam­paigns’ fi­nances. He re­ferred The Wash­ing­ton Times to Mr. Light­foot’s state­ment.

Last week, Mr. Soto said he plans to ap­peal the de­ci­sion on the Todd cam­paign.

“I do not agree the vi­o­la­tions are a re­sult of ir­re­spon­si­ble record-keep­ing,” he told The Times last week. “The com­mit­tee cer­tainly com­mit­ted un­forced er­rors by hav­ing sig­nif­i­cant data en­try er­rors, but it was not be­cause of bad record-keep­ing.”

Coun­cil mem­ber Charles Allen, chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said he plans to hold a hear­ing next month on four cam­paign fi­nance bills, which “will be a good op­por­tu­nity to ex­am­ine some of the more re­cent is­sues that have been brought to light.”

“On July 10, the Com­mit­tee on the Ju­di­ciary and Pub­lic Safety will hold a hear­ing to con­sider four bills in­tro­duced by me, my col­leagues and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Karl Racine,” the Ward 6 Demo­crat said. “These bills all ap­proach our cam­paigns and elec­tions with a goal of im­prov­ing the process and ad­dress­ing short­com­ings. Good gov­er­nance and trans­parency in our elec­tions are crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing the trust res­i­dents have in the elec­toral process.”

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