A little loose with money

IS D.C. COUNCIL member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) a victim deserving of sympathy? That question may be answered in part by law enforcement authorities investigating allegations of embezzlement of his campaign funds. But whether Mr. Brown is suited to be steward of the public’s interests is a question for voters.

Mr. Brown, by his own telling, was unaware that more than $100,000 went missing from his campaign fund over the past year. That glaring inattention — combined with a history of sloppy personal finances — should give residents pause.

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Mr. Brown, seeking reelection Nov. 6, went public in June with allegations that a “substantial” amount had been stolen from his campaign account. He said that he had alerted police, and he fired his campaign treasurer, Hakim Sutton. Reports filed this month with the Office of Campaign Finance detailed a stunning $113,950 in “unexplained expenditures” to Mr. Sutton. No charges have been filed, and the investigation by police and the U.S. Attorney’s Office is continuing. An attorney for Mr. Sutton, J. Wyndal Gordon, posting on Facebook on Wednesday, disputed that any money was stolen and instead blamed Mr. Brown’s “laziness, arrogance, narcissism and greed.”

Included in Mr. Gordon’s posting is this question: How could someone steal more than $110,000, the bulk of the campaign treasury, over 12 months from an experienced, incumbent politician and the officeholder not know anything about it? Mr. Brown told us that he delegated complete authority for his finances to Mr. Sutton. Mr. Brown said that he didn’t issue checks, didn’t receive or review monthly bank statements, and didn’t prepare campaign finance reports. He uncovered the theft only when, realizing the campaign was going to enter a more active phase, he took a look at the records and noticed discrepancies. “I don’t believe being a victim of a crime reflects badly on the campaign,” he said.

Surely, as pointed out by one of his opponents, Mary Brooks Beatty, the person running the campaign should be making sure money is properly spent. Mr. Brown erred in deciding whom to trust, failed to exercise due diligence or both.

It is hard to divorce these latest issues from Mr. Brown’s past failure to pay his rent, mortgage and taxes on time or his previous campaign finance difficulties. An audit of his 2008 campaign found unreported expenditures and checks returned because of insufficient funds. In 1997 he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor campaign violation for making straw contributions. And now, as The Post’s Tim Craig reports on Sunday’s front page, it turns out that Mr. Brown’s driving record is a mess: His driver’s license has been suspended five times in the past eight years.

Incumbency and his family name (his father was the late commerce secretary Ronald Brown) are seen as giving the edge to Mr. Brown. But the field of challengers on Nov. 6 includes several promising candidates: Ms. Beatty, David Grosso and Leon J. Swain Jr. Voters would do well to consider the record before they vote for more of the same.