“It means we think there’s criminal activity here that needs to be looked into,” said the board’s chairman, Togo D. West Jr.
But prosecutors and a campaign finance official said Thursday that the allegations against Brown’s campaign are already under review, making the Democrat the fourth sitting elected city official to be subject to federal scrutiny.
William Miller, a spokesman for Machen, said his office was “aware” of the board’s referral and “will take the information it provides into account as we continue to review this matter.” An attorney for the city’s Office of Campaign Finance, William O. SanFord, told the board that federal investigators had visited the office and had taken records pertaining to Brown’s case.
An audit released in April by campaign finance officials found that Brown’s 2008 campaign, for a second term as an at-large council member, failed to report contributions and expenditures totaling more than $270,000.
The audit also found that the campaign passed $239,000 to a company owned by Brown’s brother, Che Brown, via a now-defunct consulting firm. A subsequent complaint filed by the campaign finance office alleged that Brown’s campaign had failed to register a $60,000 bank account that Che Brown controlled.
In brief remarks after leading a council hearing Thursday, Brown said he is “looking forward to moving forward and getting some closure.”
“I’m looking forward to a full investigation,” said Brown, who has characterized the alleged irregularities as “administrative errors.”
A statement attributed to Brown’s 2008 campaign committee and distributed by his council staff said that the direct referral to federal authorities is “the most efficient course for this matter to follow.”
It added that the campaign is “confident that such an investigation will not find any criminal wrongdoing by the committee, or those acting on behalf of the committee.”
Che Brown referred questions to his attorney, A. Scott Bolden. “He’s cooperating with the investigation and has nothing to hide,” Bolden said.
Several of the chairman’s council colleagues declined to address his handling of the campaign finance matter.
Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-At Large), who raised questions about Brown’s past fundraising while running against him for the chairmanship last year, said asking for the federal referral was a “good legal strategy.” He noted that the decision defers any penalties until Machen reaches a finding.
“It always appeared that the U.S. attorney was going to be the final arbiter,” Orange said. “We’ll wait and see.”
The Board of Elections and Ethics is empowered to assess fines for civil violations of campaign finance law after a public hearing process. But Frederick D. Cooke Jr., representing Brown’s campaign, asked the board to allow federal authorities to investigate first “as a matter of efficiency and expedition.”