A D.C. Council member who assured the public last month that he had “completely accounted for and properly reported” campaign contributions at the center of a city audit failed to meet the deadline and has been ordered to pay $5,100 in fines.
D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) did not produce deposit slips explaining the origin of $83,000 deposited in his 2015 special-election campaign account, according to the District’s Office of Campaign Finance.
Todd also did not give auditors documents they requested to show who made more than $68,000 in deposits through Pay-Pal to his successful campaign for the seat left open by the election of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.
Todd did not respond to a phone call or email seeking comment but a spokesman for his campaign said the council member plans to appeal the fine and that he filed additional documents last month — weeks after the conclusion of the investigation, and 15 months after auditors first requested them — that will clear up questions.
“We have provided all supporting documents to substantiate every campaign contribution and expense,” said Everett Hamilton, the Todd campaign’s former spokesman.
Open government groups scoffed at the campaign’s latest assertion but focused most of their criticism on the District’s Office of Campaign Finance. They said the election regulator had weakened city election laws by fining Todd a “paltry” $5,100 for widespread and flagrant violations.
“The maximum possible fine for losing track of approximately $100,000 in campaign contributions is $5,100?” said Public Citizen’s Aquene Freechild. “The District of Columbia needs ethics and campaign finance reform now more than ever.”
Public Citizen called on D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine to investigate Todd’s campaign fundraising. Even some of Todd’s colleagues on the D.C. Council questioned if the fine was commensurate with the violations identified by the city’s election regulator.
D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) who chairs the committee that oversees the Office of Campaign Finance, said he will hold a July hearing on proposed reforms and “expects conversations at that time will include a review of Mr. Todd’s campaign finance reports.”
Allen said he is particularly interested in reviewing fines. “In my mind, the fines are certainly supposed to be at a level that are either a deterrent or a punishment to bad behavior by candidates and campaign committees,” Allen said.
The Office of Campaign Finance identified major gaps in Todd’s campaign records more than a year ago but did not make their findings public until after Todd ran and ultimately won a contested follow-up election to a full, four-year term.
Auditors said Todd stymied investigators repeatedly, missing deadlines to provide additional information and then asking city auditors to forward questions to an accountant in Florida.
However, the city’s elections regulator this week chose the least costly way to fine Todd, according to documents.
Todd, for example, could not provide deposit slips for 456 separate contributions totaling $83,187. For each violation, he could have been charged $50 per day. Instead, the Office of Campaign Finance bundled the missing deposit slips as one violation.
Because the office waited a year to issue a final audit report, it also began the meter on fines on March 30th. It stopped the clock 17 business days later when agency attorneys closed the matter and concluded Todd could not produce the documents.
Todd was fined $50 a day for 17 days, for a total of $850. The campaign was similarly fined $50 a day for each of five other classes of violations, including incomplete records of $68,000 in credit card deposits and $6,000 in expenditures the committee failed to report.
By comparison, the Office of Campaign Finance has in other recent cases, levied fines of $50 for each day that a campaign files after a reporting deadline. Todd’s filings were mostly on time but riddled with errors and incomplete information, according to the audit records.
The office did not appear to contemplate additional fines for subsequent deficiencies in Todd’s amended campaign filings, including more than $85,000 in previously unreported contributions.
In an email to constituents on May 12th, Todd said he took responsibility for errors but had corrected them. “The time it took the campaign to file amended contributor and expense information was longer than the high standard I set for the campaign,” Todd wrote. “As of this week, all expense and contributor activity is completely accounted for and properly reported.”