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D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd reprimanded for improper use of emails

D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) has been fined twice for campaign-finance violations. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) has been formally reprimanded by an ethics agency after admitting he violated the city’s code of conduct through his involvement last year in an education board election.

The D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability issued the reprimand last week, noting in its decision that Todd has complied with an earlier order from campaign-finance regulators that he attend ethics training and pay a $4,000 fine. In light of those actions, the ethics board reduced the fine to $2,000.

The decision states that Todd admitted he had violated ethics rules because his actions “created the appearance that he improperly used government resources.”

In March, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance determined after an investigation that an email list 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 for the education board.

Todd did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

A group of neighborhood and Democratic Party activists sent an open letter to Todd on Wednesday criticizing his actions and calling on him “to pledge to obey the District’s campaign laws and, in light of his past actions, adopt campaign reporting practices that go above and beyond those required by law in the 2020 election.”

Zach Teutsch, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner who signed the letter and urged the original campaign-finance and ethics investigations, said in an interview that Todd “needs to take actions that restore public trust and confidence in him, and I think that needs to start with a full and honest reckoning of what’s happened, and an explanation of why it’s not going to happen again.”

Todd was previously fined for campaign-finance irregularities in 2017, when his campaign had to pay $5,100 for extensive record-keeping violations in the 2015 special election, in which he won the Ward 4 council seat vacated by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).

The reprimand last week concerns more recent allegations that Todd improperly used the resources of his council office to try to sway a race in the competitive — and heavily funded — elections last year for the State Board of Education, a set of contests that served as a proxy battle between supporters and opponents of charter-school expansion.

Campaign-finance regulators received complaints that an email promoting Henderson’s candidacy was sent to residents who had contacted Todd’s office for various constituent services. A link in the emails stated they were addressed to people who had previously contacted the Ward 4 council office.

Todd said at the time that the link was included by mistake and that he had compiled an email list through other means that he used on behalf of Henderson’s campaign.

But the campaign-finance office said in its March ruling that Todd’s defense was “not a plausible explanation.” Regulators said that even if Todd’s actions did not show “flagrant disregard” for the law, they “at minimum created an appearance of an impropriety.”

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