- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

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.

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not say whether the campaign would appeal the fine, but he did take the opportunity to ding the office for running an outdated system.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.”

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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