D.C. Council Member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) has been fined $4,000 after campaign-finance regulators found that he improperly used government resources to try to sway a State Board of Education race last year.
The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance issued an order this week stating that an email list that Todd compiled at least in part through his council office’s dealings with constituents was used to distribute campaign literature and seek donations for Rhonda Henderson, his favored candidate in a December special election to the education board.
Regulators found that even if Todd’s actions did now show “flagrant disregard” for the law they “at minimum created an appearance of an impropriety” and said it was unsurprising that District residents who complained about his actions “view the Council member’s behavior as a breach of the public trust.”
In response to questions from The Washington Post, Todd directed his council office spokesman, Joshua Fleitman, to issue a statement on the campaign finance violation.
“Council member Todd is reviewing the order from the Office of Campaign Finance. He looks forward to moving past this and remains focused on doing the important work of advocating for and serving the residents of Ward 4,” Fleitman said in an email.
Todd’s use of a D.C. government employee to address campaign-finance allegations was a departure from the typical practice of elected officials, who try not to commingle government and political business, said long time District government watchdog Dorothy Brizill. “There’s supposed to be a firewall between the council member — and council staff — and any campaign-related, outside-related activities,” she said.
A spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance did not immediately respond to questions about Fleitman’s role in Todd’s response to the fine.
The fine against Todd comes during the same week that the D.C. Council voted to reprimand another member, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), over his repeated use of government staff and email to solicit employment from law firms that lobby the city government.
Todd’s questionable campaign involvement came amid an intense, and heavily funded, set of races for the State Board of Education. Although the board’s power diminished after then-mayor Adrian M. Fenty took control of the public schools in 2007, members remain influential in shaping education policy and the board is seen as a proving ground for aspiring council members.
Elections to the board last year were largely proxy fights between those supporting and opposed to the expansion of charter schools. Henderson, who was backed by a charter advocacy group, lost to Frazier O’Leary in a special election that followed four other races decided in November.
The campaign-finance office received complaints that an email promoting Henderson’s candidacy was directed to recipients who had contacted Todd’s office for various constituent services, and that a link in the emails stated they were addressed to people who had previously contacted the Ward 4 council office.
Responding to the complaints, Todd asserted that link was included by mistake and that he had compiled an email list through personal means that he used on behalf of Henderson’s campaign. However, the campaign-finance office said in its ruling that Todd’s defense was “not a plausible explanation.”