12/13: Article updated with a statement by Councilmember Brandon Todd’s office, and results of the ANC 4C meeting on Wednesday the 12th.
During the campaign for Ward 4 Member of the State Board of Education, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd threw his public support and endorsement behind Rhonda Henderson for the open seat. The question and concern, alleges Zach Teutsch, an outgoing commissioner with Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C, is if Todd used his official DC Council resources resources to help Ms. Henderson try to get elected.
“To me, using government resources (illegally) to try to reward an ally and punish competitors is corrupt,” said Teutsch. “It undermines democracy since it is essential for our elections to be free from government tampering (hence the Hatch Act) and essential for citizens to know that they are being treated fairly and equally by their government. Frazier O'Leary wasn't treated fairly, his government worked against him.” (Frazier O’Leary won the special election for Ward 4 Member of SBOE on December 4th.)
ANC 4C is planning to vote on sending letters to the Office of Campaign Finance and Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, asking for an investigation, stating in their letters that “Contacting one’s elected representatives is an essential part of democracy and comes with an expectation of privacy, as well as an expectation that such contact will not be used for political purposes. Councilmember Todd may have betrayed that trust and appears to have done it by misusing public resources.”
Back in August of 2018, Henderson was profiled in a weekly newsletter from the Councilmember’s office, highlighting her positive role in the community. Nothing in that profile mentions a potential candidacy in any election. (Full disclosure, Drew was profiled by the Councilmember’s office in their July 25th Ward 4 Weekly email.)
Todd did actively campaign for Henderson during the special election, posting numerous endorsements on his personal Facebook profile. Those posts on his personal profile, at least some of them, were publically accessible without being connected to him on Facebook. His personal profile also uses the same profile picture as his official Facebook page.
On his official Councilmember Facebook Page, there was only one post about the special election for SBOE, a reminder to vote with links to the DCBOE.org website to get more information. There was no mention of any candidate in that post.
On November 9th, Todd sent an email endorsing Henderson from a personal email account with MailChimp, “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Todd’s official emails, such as his Ward 4 Weekly email, come from his official DC Council email address “email@example.com.”
On November 30th, an email went out from Rhonda Henderson with the subject “Why I Am Running for Ward 4 SBOE” asking people to vote for her. It came from email address “firstname.lastname@example.org” via Mailchimp.
The email has a footer stating, “Paid for by Rhonda Henderson for Ward 4 State Board of Education, 207 Sheridan St. NW Washington, DC, Marilyn Tyler Brown, Chair, Adam Hunter, Treasurer.”
Many residents who received the November 30th email Henderson wondered how she got their email address. They seemingly found the answer when they clicked the “why did I get this?” link at the bottom of the email. The MailChimp page that came up stated they were subscribed to the email list because, “You are receiving this email because you contacted Councilmember Todd in the past.”
Question is, was this email list from Todd’s official Ward 4 Councilmember’s office, or his personal campaign email list? If a voter never contacted the campaign but only the Ward 4 Councilmember’s office in an official capacity of contacting their representative, should that voter’s email have been added to an official campaign email list, if it was?
According to a recent WAMU article on this, Josh Fleitman from Todd’s office said that,
…the Council member sent the email “from his personal account,” and that Henderson had paid to activate it and would be recording that expense in an upcoming campaign finance report. But Fleitman did not respond to a follow-up question on where Todd got the emails he used to send the campaign email for Henderson.
The article also states that Henderson denied paying for the email list. “I do not have access to the email addresses,” she wrote to WAMU. “I did not purchase the list nor was it lent to me.”
If Todd used any resources from his DC Council office, either an email list or personnel, he could be breaking the Council’s Code of Conduct, as well as DC election law that prohibits elected officials from using resources from their office to support a partisan or non-partisan election.
…no resources of the District of Columbia government, including the expenditure of funds, the personal services of employees during their hours of work, and nonpersonal services, including supplies, materials, equipment, office space, facilities, and telephones and other utilities, shall be used to support or oppose any candidate for elected office, whether partisan or nonpartisan, or to support or oppose any initiative, referendum, or recall measure, including a charter amendment referendum conducted in accordance with § 1-203.03.
“We need a high-quality, deep, thorough investigation to find out exactly what happened,” Teutsch said. “Did staff members do work to help Henderson on work time? Did they do anything on phones or computers or otherwise in the Wilson or other government buildings? What did Brandon know? When did he know it? There may be both criminal and civil violations. Once we know what happened, we can figure out better what the right remedy is. If it's a misunderstanding, maybe it's a small matter but based on the pattern and the evidence already publicly available it seems like crimes have been committed.”
The Councilmember came to the ANC 4C meeting on Wednesday, December 12th to discuss the commission’s concerns. He stood up in front of the audience, before the commissioners, and said, “Let me be very clear, there are no charges against me, right? There are allegations made by individuals. And I can be very certain, to each and every one of you, that any emails that were sent, were sent by me personally. At no time did I share, directly or indirectly, any emails with anyone. Period, point blank."
At the ANC meeting, the commission voted to send the letters to their respective offices, asking for an investigation, with one opposed and one abstained.
On Thursday morning, December 13th, Todd’s office emailed a statement to Petworth News regarding ANC 4C’s concerns:
“E-mail’s were sent by Councilmember Brandon Todd from his personal e-mail using no Government resources, using emails collected by a variety of means through his engagement with the community over more than 10 years. At no time were e-mail’s directly or indirectly given to any campaign. Councilmember Todd looks forward to cooperating with any inquiries.”