- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2017

UPDATED

A government watchdog said Tuesday that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 2014 campaign received nearly two-dozen illegal donations.

Public Citizen filed a complaint with the District’s Office of Campaign Finance, asking the agency to investigate 23 contributions to the Bowser campaign “that appear to violate the campaign contribution limit.”

Miss Bowser was not immediately available for comment.

According to Office of Campaign Finance records analyzed the group, the 23 contributions might exceed the $2,000 legal limit. Those contributions total about $31,500 over the legal limit from individuals and corporations.

“The public records show illegal contributions. If this is due to sloppy reporting, it’s an egregious failure by the Bowser campaign and the Office of Campaign Finance. If it’s an abuse of the District’s campaign finance law, Bowser needs to be held accountable,” Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign, said in a statement Tuesday.

Public Citizen says it found that 40 percent of the donors of the excess contributions are affiliated with the real estate industry. And 68 percent of the donors are in the real estate, construction and health industries.

“Corporate interests have been dominating D.C. elections for years, and now it appears that some of these donations are illegal,” Ms. Freechild said. “These apparent abuses highlight both the need for more rigorous enforcement by the OCF and for meaningful reform.”

OCF spokesman Wesley Williams confirmed that the agency had received Public Citizen’s filing.

“Inquiries of this nature are confidential until completion,” Mr. Williams said.

Bowser spokesman Kevin Harris said questions about the allegations should be directed to Ben Soto, who was the campaign treasurer for Miss Bowser’s 2014 run and went on to chair the Bowser-aligned FreshPAC.

Mr. Soto sits on the board of Eagle Bank, which provided at least $46 million in financing to Sanford Capital, a city property owner that has been fined repeatedly for housing violation and currently is being sued by the D.C. Attorney General, according to the Washington City Paper.

Sanford Capital made two donations to the Bowser campaign totaling $3,000, according to data compiled by Public Citizen. One was made in September 2013 and another in June 2014.

Mr. Soto told The Washington Times that he’s “not aware of any excess contributions and never intended to accept any excess contributions.”

“The Muriel Bowser for Mayor Campaign Committee was always committed to full transparency and strict adherence to all campaign finance laws,” he said Tuesday evening.

Mr. Soto said the Office of Campaign Finance gave a clean audit to the campaign committee more than two years ago, after which the committee was officially closed and terminated. He also said the campaign received 7,079 campaign contributions, meaning the complaint by Public Citizen amounts to less than .005 percent of all contributions.

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