“SOMETIMES SOMEONE sends you a check and unless you can Google them, you have no idea where they work . . . and sometimes you get a starter check that doesn’t even have an address on it.” So said the campaign treasurer for D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D) in trying to explain some of the deficiencies in financial reports filed by the Ward 4 council member’s campaigns. That the campaign apparently was comfortable cashing checks without knowing where the money came from raises questions about judgment and competence that Mr. Todd needs to address.
A recently released audit by the Office of Campaign Finance of Mr. Todd’s 2015 special-election campaign and Post scrutiny of his 2016 reelection campaign reports revealed a number of problems. The 2015 campaign, according to the audit, did not adequately document more than $100,000 in contributions and failed to report an additional $34,000 in donations. Review of the 2016 campaign by The Post’s Aaron C. Davis found widespread failure in providing required information (such as home address and employer) for contributors.
Mr. Todd stressed during an appearance last Friday on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” his commitment to providing “every single piece of documentation” that is outstanding and that “I can assure you that we can account for every single penny that came into our 2015 campaign and every single penny that went out.” An outside auditor has been hired, and campaign officials said they planned to file paperwork Friday that would close out the 2015 campaign. “I expect us to have a clean bill of health when this over,” said Ben Soto, treasurer for the two campaigns, admitting to “unforced errors” but saying “in terms of misappropriated money, no, there’s none.”
We will take Mr. Todd and Mr. Soto at their word, for now. That, though, does not excuse the sloppiness and inattention to detail that is so clearly evident in the campaigns’ reporting. Such nonchalance about campaign finance is concerning given Mr. Todd’s background in having raised funds for his political mentor, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who selected him as her successor in Ward 4. Also troubling is that campaign officials were alerted to the findings of auditors a year ago but failed to take sufficient action. Mr. Todd owes his constituents a full accounting.
The events underscore the inherent weaknesses in the city’s campaign-finance laws and how they are enforced. It is inexcusable that the audit of the 2015 campaign took so long and that voters who were asked to vote on Mr. Todd’s reelection last year were kept in the dark. Such lack of urgency is not unusual. It is why the D.C. Council should take up reforms that would establish deadlines for the closeout of campaigns, set timetables for audits and give the agency the resources it needs to provide meaningful oversight.