A D.C. Council member who rose to power by fundraising for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser is facing possible disciplinary action after being unable to document more than $100,000 in contributions reported by his campaign and failing to report an additional $34,000 in donations.
A city audit of the 2015 special-election campaign of council member Brandon T. Todd (D), the mayor’s former campaign finance director and her hand-picked successor to take over the Ward 4 council seat, has been sent to attorneys for the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance “for whatever action deemed appropriate” by the city’s election regulator, according to the newly released audit.
The report says that Todd’s campaign repeatedly failed to provide documents to back up more than $102,000 in contributions reported by the campaign. The audit also says that Todd did not report an additional $34,000 in contributions deposited in the campaign’s bank account. The campaign has deposit records for an additional $69,000, but no breakdown of credit card transactions to show who donated the money, the audit shows.
Todd did not respond to emails seeking comments, but two campaign aides disputed the audit findings, as well as statements by auditors that Todd’s campaign was uncooperative.
In a statement, Ben Soto, campaign treasurer for Todd and Bowser (D), said the council member’s campaign committee has been working to comply with the auditors’ requests and will continue to do so.
“The campaign committee has amended reports and provided a significant amount of documents that we believe complies with their requests,” Soto wrote. “However, we will continue to work with the Office of Campaign Finance to provide them with the documentation it deems outstanding.”
Auditors painted a different picture. In a March 30 report, they wrote of being stymied by Todd’s campaign. Because the audit had not been previously disclosed, voters were unaware of questions surrounding Todd’s special-election victory as he campaigned last year and won a contested follow-up election to a full, four-year term.
The campaign finance office completed a preliminary audit of Todd’s campaign in March 2016, more than two months before Todd won the city’s Democratic primary and went on to win the general election in November.
The findings were kept confidential, however, as city auditors gave Todd’s campaign repeated chances to correct the record, including granting several extensions to explain the discrepancies.
In response to questions about the timing of the audit release, Wesley Williams, spokesman for the campaign finance office, wrote in an email that it is unethical to release preliminary audit findings without giving a campaign time to respond. “The outcome of the audit may change based on the submission of supplemental information and documentation,” he wrote.
But in Todd’s case, delays piled up, the report said. After six months of missed deadlines, the audit says, Todd’s committee asked city officials to forward questions to an accountant in Florida.
Among those were additional questions about misstated receipts, expenditures and cash-on-hand in Todd’s account.
From a review of campaign bank statements, auditors found 19 expenditures totaling more than $30,000 that the committee failed to report. Additionally, they found that it failed to report nine bank fees totaling $6,300. And in one instance, the committee reported PayPal fees of more than $1,000 that were actually $200.
More broadly, the $102,000 in questioned fundraising involved more than 500 individual contributions reported on campaign reports that did not have the required documentation such as merchant statements, deposit slips or checks, the audit said.
From bank statements, auditors also found 131 contributions totaling $34,139 that were not reported. Further, contributions and deposit records didn’t match, with more than one in four dollars raised by the committee called into question.
Auditors recommended that Todd’s campaign file a new report, consolidating its fundraising records into one document for review. It never did so.
By late last month, auditors wrote that staff “believes” the discrepancies “were the result of inadequate record keeping and the lack of adequate internal controls” in Todd’s campaign.
But auditors concluded that they would be “unable to make an accurate opinion as to the financial activity” of Todd’s 2015 campaign and sent their audit findings to the agency’s office of general counsel for review and possible disciplinary action.
Everett Hamilton, Todd’s former campaign spokesman, provided The Washington Post with more than a dozen supplemental documents filed in response to the audit that he said answered the auditors’ questions.
Hamilton also cast blame on the campaign finance office, saying the agency’s antiquated technology system prevented it from receiving some information the campaign provided.
“The Brandon Todd for Ward 4 campaign has provided all of the documents to resolve the issues outlined in the Office of Campaign Finance audit report,” Hamilton said. “Many of the items cited were the result of the campaign’s inability to transfer information electronically due to OCF’s software deficiencies.”
He later added, “The campaign is committed to the highest level of campaign finance reporting and looks forward to providing any additional information that OCF might require.”
Leon Andrews, who lost the November election to Todd 41 percent to 48 percent, said he wished the public had seen the audit before last year’s election.
“Count me among the voters who did not know,” Andrews said. “It is alarming, to say the least, that we have not been aware of what’s been going on.”