The bad news for the Ward 5 councillor Kenyan McDuffie is that he will have to start from scratch in raising funds for his new bid at large, considering he must return all the public funds he earned from his ill-fated Attorney General campaign. The good news is that he has at least one well-funded, well-connected friend to help him on this front.
lobbyist David Carmen has effectively passed the hat after McDuffie moved on to this independent bid, according to a July 15 email forwarded to Loose Lips. Under the ominous subject line “Urgent – Please read ASAP,” Carmen laments the “insane rules here in DC” that are forcing McDuffie to return the approximately $845,000 in public funds he paid for the AG’s bid under the… DC’s fair elections program. And Carmen urges his staff to give the maximum donation to the council member since he is no longer bound by the program’s contribution limits.
The email spends some time praising McDuffie’s virtues as a lawmaker, noting his time as chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee amid the disruptions of the pandemic, as well as “his experience as a prosecutor in developing his tough stance on crimes that are… in contrast to his opponents”. But most importantly, the letter emphasizes the urgency of donors, who immediately queue up behind McDuffie: “No time for house parties!” Carmen writes. The plea for cash was so urgent that it came before McDuffie even officially set up his new campaign committee for his general bid — a spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance says that didn’t happen until July 22.
“I TRY [sic] Go on the site and donate the $1000 max like I did and get your spouses and friends to do the same and do it THIS WEEKEND so we Kenyans can get the blocks strong” , wrote Carmen. “Whether you live or work in DC, this is the best $1000 you will ever invest. Help get the Council back on track by keeping our city safe, our schools thriving, and our businesses hiring and serving their customers with excellence.”
Carmen confirms to LL the accuracy of the email and says he regrets that he managed to misspell “beg” but otherwise stands by the content. He notes in an email that he met McDuffie as a co-parent to a Georgetown Day School student and that he has been an “excellent” council member who “administers important diversity priorities with respect for the needs of employers and DC’s competition in Has brought challenges with surrounding jurisdictions.”
McDuffie himself would not specifically comment on Carmen’s support, noting that he has a “beautifully diverse coalition” of supporters that stretches beyond the big lobbyists. He quotes Tony Lewis Jr.a prominent advocate for incarcerated people, and Angel Gregory, the owner of the Spice Suite in Takoma, among other examples of his supporters. And he notes that he would much rather use public funding again than rely on checks from the likes of Carmen, citing his longstanding support for fair elections.
“We have to raise money the traditional way, and we’re going to do that to have the resources that we need,” McDuffie tells LL. “We’ve done this before, and it hasn’t stopped me from writing some of the most progressive laws in the city during my tenure.”
It’s not exactly uncommon for a lobbyist to want to raise money for a council member, especially a lobbyist with so many deals in DC Carmen’s company, the Carmen Group, which counts clients like major developer Douglas Development, gas station magnates Joe Mamo‘s Capitol Petroleum Group, the owners of Adams Morgan’s LINE DC Hotel and the developers of the Wharf, according to lobbying records. And Carmen has helped many local politicians raise money from former council members Vincent Orange as mayor for life himself.
On the one hand, Carmen’s involvement in the race gives the at-large councilor some credibility Elissa Silberman‘s claims that business interests lie close to the mayor Muriel Bowser are looking for her again. Silverman declined to comment on that story, but she has previously told LL that she fully expects to face a wave of “special interest money” in the race. (Technically, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds is also one of McDuffie’s opponents, but she’s effectively an attacker after securing the Democratic nomination, leaving the actual contest between the independents on the ballot).
But Carmen is more than just an ordinary lobbyist: he is also a major Republican donor and political activist. And after questions about the contestants’ ties to the GOP became an issue in both the Ward 1 and Ward 3 primaries, one can wonder if McDuffie will suffer a similar setback over his connection with Carmen.
Many lobbyists in town have Republican leanings, but Carmen certainly comes across as a true believer. His father was the head of the General Services Administration under President Ronald Reagan (and helped engineer Reagan’s crucial New Hampshire primary in 1980), and he helped Carmen get into the family business. A 1988 Washington Post Profile details Carmen’s rise through the ranks of the Republican National Committee and other GOP-affiliated groups before joining K Street described him as a “right-wing conservative” who worked uniformly for “conservative causes”, GOP politicians and big corporations.
He has remained loyal to the party in the 40 years since this article appeared, if his campaign contributions are any indication.
Campaign finance records show that Carmen has frequently donated to Republican senators and GOP campaign operations over the years, with a $2,800 check to the former president donald trump and a $34,700 donation to the RNC among his most recent gifts in September 2020. Apparently he wasn’t always aboard the Trump train. Carmen gave $2,700 each Jeb Bush and then Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan at the height of the 2015 presidential primary. Carmen’s only donations to Democrats come from local politics, with Bowser, Del. Eleanor Holmes Nortoncouncil 7 Vince Grey and former councilor of Ward 2 Jack Evans benefited from Carmen’s generosity over the years.
So Carmen seems like the sort of guy who could make McDuffie quite a bit of cash once his campaign goes at large, although it’ll be a few days before the exact benefits are clear. As a traditional fundraising candidate, McDuffie doesn’t have to report his finances until July 31. The other fair election candidates in the running (Silverman, Bonds and Newcomer Graham McLaughlin and Karim Marshall) last submitted reports on June 10th and will no longer do so until August 10th.
McDuffie, meanwhile, faces a much more important deadline: it’s almost time he paid back his public funds.
Any candidate who loses certification as a fair election candidate, like McDuffie did when the Election Committee threw him out of the AG vote, has a 60-day window to return whatever public funds they have left. McDuffie spent some of it, but he reported that as of June 10 he had just over $572,000 in the bank, a good chunk of which likely came from public funds. OCF revoked its fair election status on May 12, giving it until July 12 to pay the piper.
But OCF speakers Wesley Williams says McDuffie’s campaign requested and received a 15-day extension (DC law allows candidates to request up to 180 extra days to pay back the money, he notes). That puts McDuffie’s new deadline on Wednesday, when the campaign must file a report detailing how it intends to return public funding and otherwise halt its activities.
LL will certainly be curious to read it.