Opinion | Elissa Silverman’s campaign finance misconduct is not minor

Opinion | Elissa Silverman’s campaign finance misconduct is not minor

The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance completed an investigation of D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) just before the upcoming Nov. 8 election, finding that Ms. Silverman, who promotes herself as a good-government advocate and has been quick to criticize others accused of ethical transgressions, violated the rules and the spirit of the District’s public campaign law. Good for the campaign finance office, which is not always so timely, in getting this information out; voters should have it when deciding whether to give her another term in office. We did not endorse Ms. Silverman for one of the two at-large seats on November’s ballot. Instead, we gave our nod to Ward 5 Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (I) and political newcomer Graham McLaughlin (I); these findings reaffirm our belief that Ms. Silverman is not a good choice for D.C. residents.

In a 15-page ruling issued Thursday, the office concluded that Ms. Silverman misspent public campaign funds on polls for a race in which she was not a candidate. “While [Ms. Silverman] is seeking Re-election in the November 8, 2022, General Election as an At-Large Member of the Council who is elected citywide, she chose to expend [public funds] on a poll regarding a Ward Primary,” the ruling read. “Clearly, this was not an acceptable expenditure of campaign funds.” It ordered her to repay the city $6,277.52.

This sounds minor. It was not. At issue was Ms. Silverman’s unseemly meddling in the hotly contested Ward 3 council race in the June Democratic primary, efforts that were key to the defeat of moderate candidate Eric Goulet. Using funds under the city’s public campaign financing program, Ms. Silverman conducted two polls to gauge support for candidates in the crowded field. Ms. Silverman has acknowledged that she broadly discussed the conclusions — namely, that Mr. Goulet would likely win — with candidates Tricia Duncan and Ben Bergmann. Following those discussions, they and a third candidate dropped out of the race and threw their support to Matthew Frumin, who won the primary.

The complaint against Ms. Silverman — which Karim Marshall, an independent at-large candidate in November’s election, filed — alleged improper coordination to influence the outcome of the election. William SanFord, the campaign finance office’s general counsel, said there was insufficient evidence to support that charge; meanwhile, complaints lodged against Ms. Duncan and Mr. Bergmann have yet to be resolved. But in pointed rebuke, Mr. SanFord wrote, “One of the goals of the Fair Elections Act was to provide an incentive for more candidates to compete in the electoral process. Thus, Councilmember Silverman should have been an advocate for the integrity of the Fair Elections Program as opposed to suggesting to the candidates whom she decided not to endorse that they could better serve the residents of Ward 3 by reducing the level of ‘vote splitting.’ ” One would have thought that, having helped write the law, Ms. Silverman would have understood — and supported — its aims.

Ms. Silverman has insisted she broke no rules. She has called the complaint against her a “political stunt” and said that the agency rushed its investigation, which she will appeal. That is her right. Just as it is the right of D.C. voters to decide who should represent them.

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