Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd
Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd has, to some extent, skirted campaign laws in every election since he took office in 2015, including one where he wasn’t on the ballot. But he’s not taking questions.

Todd’s most recent blunder earned him a $4,000 fine from the Office of Campaign Finance for illegally spamming his constituents with campaign literature for his preferred candidate in the State Board of Education race.

D.C.’s ethics board formally reprimanded Todd earlier this month.

In the settlement with the D.C. Office of Government Ethics, Todd acknowledges for the first time that his emails supporting Rhonda Henderson‘s unsuccessful bid for an SBOE seat violated campaign law because they “created the appearance that he improperly used government resources.”

D.C.’s campaign finance office found that Todd used a list of emails collected through his Council office to send campaign emails soliciting support and donations for Henderson. Todd has insisted that he maintains a personal list of emails.

He agreed to sit through an ethics training, and if he completes the course, his fine will be reduced to $2,000.

Yet, as the campaign violations pile up, LL has to wonder if Todd actually believes he did anything wrong.

Since December, when residents first started raising questions about Todd’s campaign emails, the councilmember has insisted on his innocence and has hidden behind emailed statements from his flack.

During a Ward 4 neighborhood commission meeting late last year, when the allegations were first coming to light, Todd showed up to confront his accusers directly.

“I can be very certain to each and every one of you that any emails that were sent were sent by me personally and at no time did I share directly or indirectly any emails with anyone—period point blank,” Todd said.

He added: “I operate with the highest standard of ethics, as do every one of my staff members.”

When the Office of Campaign Finance started asking questions, Todd “emphatically denied using District of Columbia government resources for political purposes,” according to OCF.

Todd insisted that he maintains a personal email list separate from his Council office. He told OCF that the list of people he emailed to support Henderson was compiled from various sources including “his campaigns, requests from friends, contacts, residents requesting updates and information, in-person interactions, and individuals who have contacted him through his website,” according to OCF’s summary of Todd’s response.

He also told the OCF hearing examiner that “he is unaware of any provision which would designate email addresses which originated from direct constituent contact with his Council office as government resources.”

Through it all, Todd has avoided questions from local reporters and instead refers them to canned responses from a spokesperson.

None of the news stories published by the Washington Post, WAMU, DCist or LL about Todd’s most recent campaign blooper quote the councilmember directly.

In March Todd’s spokesman wrote in an email to LL that Todd “looks forward to moving past this and remains focused on doing the important work of advocating for and serving the residents of Ward 4.”

This time around, Todd’s office didn’t want to comment. It looks like the Post got the same treatment.

But Todd’s strategy hasn’t shaken his strongest critics, some of whom circulated an open letter calling on him to participate in D.C.’s new public elections program and to, well, follow the law. The letter, which was sent out yesterday, is well timed. On the same day, Todd officially filed for re-election.

“It appears [Councilmember] Todd considers his repeated fines a cost of doing business since he has shown no remorse for his actions,” the letter says. “We need a Councilmember we can trust, who upholds highest standards of conduct.”

In 2015, Todd received a $5,100 fine when he first won the Ward 4 seat in a special election to replace Mayor Muriel Bowser. Todd’s campaign could not account more than $100,000 in contributions.

In 2016, the Post found that Todd’s campaign filings were missing required information for contributors, such as home addresses, as well as more than a dozen contributions over the legal limit of $500.