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Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd has been visibly shaken over the last few weeks by scrutiny of his 2015 special election campaign fundraising and spending from both auditors and the media, according to those who know him.
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The most recent setback involves a trio of 2015 expenditures totaling more than $100,000 to an elusive company with New Jersey ties, about which City Paper recently reported. No one from the campaign seems willing or able to explain this single largest campaign expenditure or the company to which the payments were made. The expenditures in question were quite clearly meant to be illusory and difficult to track, sending anyone who wants to understand them into a dark rabbit hole of false addresses, phantom companies, and campaign officials with inexplicably sketchy memories. We are still trying. While there’s more to learn, what’s obvious to anyone paying attention is that something is amiss, that something unclean probably went down.
Todd, of course, is the one taking the hit. But this 33-year-old politician with close ties to the mayor is an apparatchik and not really the problem, or at least not the real problem. He ran now-Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Ward 4 re-election campaign before she hand-picked him to succeed her. A toady of her Green Team—now notorious for the ill-advised unlimited fundraising blunder that was FreshPAC—it appears that he allowed himself and his campaign to be directed by insiders who know where the secret switches of D.C.’s political machinery lie and how to flip them.
But none of this is new. It is deeply rooted in District politics and has been allowed to persist because of weak campaign finance oversight, lack of political will, and the absence of reform. Shady accounting and shadow money have been an enduring problem in D.C. going back many administrations, most recently dooming the mayoral re-election of Vince Gray and sending several of his associates to prison.
Yes, it matters what Todd knew and whether he or his proxies ultimately will be able to explain the issues surrounding his campaign spending and fundraising. But as all of this unravels, it’s not his head we want. We need to guillotine the entire election finance apparatus and rebuild it.