There are important reasons why campaign finance is serious business that requires transparency, detailed record-keeping, and accountability—not to mention reform. Especially in a city like D.C., booming with development as it is, voters have a right to know who is bankrolling our public officials and whether they are doing so legally. That job falls to campaign treasurers, who are duty bound to follow the law, responsibly track and report political donors, and return contributions that exceed legal limits—all of which are standard campaign finance practice, not aspirational goals.
This has apparently been a challenge for Ben Soto, a local attorney who serves as campaign treasurer for Mayor Muriel Bowser and Councilmember Brandon Todd, both of whom are under fire for campaign finance abuses and/or irregularities. It’s more than just notable that Soto also served in that role for the controversial political action committee FreshPAC, which was ultimately shut down in 2015 amid public outcry that it was raising unlimited contributions from Bowser supporters who, coincidentally or not, traveled with and had access to the mayor.
Public Citizen recently filed a complaint with D.C.’s Office of Campaign Finance after identifying numerous instances of Bowser accepting more than the legal limit in political donations from big-dollar supporters, totaling $31,500. And an OCF audit has found that Todd’s campaign record-keeping for his 2015 special election—to replace Bowser in Ward 4 after she was elected mayor—was deeply flawed. Among the many findings for which Todd could face disciplinary action: more than $30,000 in contributions that the campaign failed to report and another $100,000 that it cannot substantiate. The OCF also faults the Todd campaign for repeatedly missing deadlines to submit information it has requested.
In the face of all this, Soto is a little like actress Amanda Bynes, who once threw a bong out of her Manhattan window only to claim it was “just a vase.” Time after time, his response has essentially been, “There’s nothing to see here. Just move along.”
With regard to Todd, he blames the problems in part on the OCF’s filing technology and tells City Paper that the audit is a non-story. We respectfully disagree.
Bowser and Todd’s troubles, and the imprudent misadventure that was FreshPAC, all have one commonality: Ben Soto. Perhaps he should move along from campaign treasurer duties.