Much to the chagrin of D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman’s supporters, the DC Board of Elections (DCBOE) didn’t find the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF)’s ruling about Silverman’s Ward 3 D.C. Council primary poll a violation of due process.
On Friday, the three board members of DCBOE took a little more than an hour to deliberate on points made by Silverman’s attorney Jason Downs and OCF General Counsel William SanFord.
Though the final vote was anonymously delivered, the point of contention among board members focused upon whether Silverman’s campaign team had sufficient time to respond to a specific charge not initially brought forth.
However, when it came to the issue of whether OCF reneged on a promise to give Silverman’s team the full 90 days to respond to independent At large D.C. Council candidate Karim Marshall’s complaint, board members agreed that SanFord urged Silverman’s team to meet an October 14 deadline.
DCBOE chair Gary Thompson said that by doing so, SanFord stayed true to the process.
“Once I saw the entire email record, it’s quite clear there was no agreement that the petitioners [Silverman and Downs] could take until the 90th day to submit a full response,” Thompson said on Friday.
“In fact, Mr. SanFord made it quite clear he would like a full response by October 14. The other one was a close call but I believe the subject matter of the complaint and allegations and the Q&A and the email provided sufficient notice that the other allegations could be addressed.”
DCBOE will schedule a full hearing on Silverman’s appeal after the November 8 election.
Last week, OCF found that Silverman had been in violation of campaign finance laws when she spent more than $6,000 to commission a poll about the Ward 3 D.C. Council Democratic primary race earlier this year.
On October 28, nearly two months after Marshall filed his complaint, OCF issued its ruling against Silverman. The agency ordered her to refund the amount, all of which she received from the District’s Fair Election campaign financing program.
Silverman petitioned for an appeal days later. While she continues to maintain that the poll had direct connection to her campaign goals, Downs made arguments centering more on the manner in which OCF reached its conclusion.
As Downs explained in his 15-minute statement on Friday, one point OCF didn’t insist that Silverman respond to Marshall’s complaint well before the 90-day milestone marking the end of the investigation.
Downs also argued that OCF didn’t allow Silverman to respond directly to the charge they levied about the financing of the Ward 3 primary poll. He said that OCF instead asked about the purpose of the poll in a questionnaire without specifying the reason for that inquiry.
“OCF breached an agreement and continues to deny entering the agreement,” Downs said.
“Viewing the two factors in conjunction raises concerns about the integrity of the process. There were only two allegations without merit [illegal coordinating and illegal in-kind contributions]. It’s important to highlight that OCF didn’t issue any findings that the allegations were sustained. The case should have been closed right there.
In regard to Downs’ arguments about the charges, SanFord said that Silverman, as a public official, should know ethical issues that could arise with the use of campaign funds to commission a poll unrelated to her council races. SanFord also spent significant time establishing a timeline to prove that Silverman’s team knew about the October 14 deadline that OCF set.
“There was never an agreement,” SanFord said.
“[The complaint] cited inappropriate use of funds [and] Silverman was served a copy of the complaint. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time refuting a claim of unilaterally changing an agreement. The initial email ended with a statement that it’s imperative that [they] would comply with our deadline.”
In the aftermath of a D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) ruling that found Silverman in violation of campaign finance laws, some McDuffie’s supporters have called for Silverman to drop out of the at-large race. They likened her actions to election tampering.
Weeks after Silverman released the results of the poll, Matthew Frumin, a former ANC commissioner she endorsed, clinched the Ward 3 Democratic nomination for D.C. Council. Eric Goulet, one of several of Frumin’s opponents, said Silverman’s poll compelled three candidates — Tricia Duncan, Ben Bergmann and Henry Cohen — to drop out of the race and support Frumin.
On the day of OCF’s ruling, D.C. Coucilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), an Independent contender in the D.C. Council At-large race, released a statement mentioning other instances, such as in 2013, when Silverman, as revealed in an email she released, encouraged Frumin to drop out of an at-large race in exchange for her future support in the Ward 3 council race.
McDuffie then touched on the role he played in shaping the current campaign finance laws, saying that he wanted to bolster the public’s trust in government.
A rally on the front steps of the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest earlier this week attracted community members and other at-large D.C. Council candidates. Speakers reflected on similar situations where Black politicians and community organizers suffered the consequences of their actions.
“Should you choose to thrust yourself [in politics], you have a heightened sense of responsibility and accountability,” attorney Dionna Maria Lewis said Tuesday as she stood by community organizer Ron Moten and others on the steps of the Wilson Building.
“People are skeptical of politics and politicians.,” Lewis said. “When you have a determination from the OCF that says the skepticism is right, that’s now another rung on a low ladder as citizens try to climb to the level of trust and integrity.”
NOTE: This article was updated to include corrections about the specifics of the DCBOE outcome and appeals process.