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'I will not step down' | DC Councilmember found to have misused public money remains on ballot

Elissa Silverman is appealing the Office of Campaign Finance's ruling that she misused taxpayer dollars to fund political polls.

WASHINGTON — Amid growing calls for Councilmember At-Large Elissa Silverman to drop her bid for re-election, the politician remains steadfast. 

“I will not step down,” Silverman said. “This is an issue over whether an expenditure was appropriate under fair elections or not. It's not a criminal case in anyway.”

While the council was holding its legislative session Tuesday, about two dozen people gathered in protest outside the Wilson Building. Among the demonstrators were Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) Robert Vinson Brannum, Council At-Large candidates Giuseppe Niosi and Fred Hill, and long-time community activist Ron Moten.

The Office of Campaign Finance ruled Silverman violated the Fair Elections Public Financing Program when she used taxpayer dollars to fund two political polls for a race where she was not a candidate. Silverman is appealing the decision arguing the poll was necessary because the Ward 3 race, and the funding source of one candidate, impacted her own race. She was ordered to repay the District government $6,277.

“I fight for working families," Silverman said. "And that makes me a big target of the outside money groups that spend a lot of money to influence D.C. elections." 

In the 12-page ruling, the campaign finance lawyer said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Silverman coordinated with the Ward 3 candidates who eventually dropped out of the crowded field, but he did criticize her for encouraging them to step aside. 

Mathew Frumin won the primary. In a brief statement to WUSA9 Frumin said, "I have not seen the poll or for that matter heard a summary of it other than in the press." 

One of her opponents in the at-large race, Karim Marshall, raised the issue in August. 

“You have to follow the rules -- that’s why people don’t have faith in our government,” Marshall said. “I’m also going to refer this to federal authorities.  When I first filed, I had no idea about the 2013 case.”

Silverman admitted to emailing her opponent in her failed at-large race back in 2013. She attempted to get Frumin to step down to avoid splitting the vote. He did not, and they both lost their bid to Anita Bonds. 

Marshall said that shows a pattern of behavior and attempts to influence fair elections. 

“What I'd say is vote splitting is a reality all the time in District elections,” Silverman said when asked about the 2013 issue. "A lot of voters are frustrated, because candidates who have a small percentage of the vote end up winning, whereas other candidates who are like minded are splitting the vote so that another candidate who isn't as like-minded wins.”

Silverman called the recent opposition and calls for her removal a distraction.

“This is about whether I can spend Fair Elections money on a poll and a specific ward or not and it's turned into something that's just not even accurate,” she said. "It’s demoralizing sometimes when I'm just really, really trying to do the best job I can on behalf of working families in this city.”

But protestors, including Moten, argue this is a larger issue about accountability and the integrity of our electoral process.

“When people of color are charged or accused of things in this city there’s a double standard on how we’re treated,” Moten said. “I think there’s enough people in this city with a moral compass to know she’s done something wrong and won’t take accountability for it. That’s someone I can’t trust to represent me, my city, my budget, and my people. I don’t think this is just a black and white issue -- this is a moral issue. When you do things like this you are destroying the spirit and the blood, sweat, tears for us to have a right to vote.”

The DC Board of Elections announced Wednesday that a special board meeting will happen on Friday, Nov. 4 to discuss the issue.

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