At the recent Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C meeting on December 12th, the commission voted to send two letters to DC government requesting an investigation into emails sent by Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd and State Board of Education candidate Rhonda Henderson. The ANC is requesting the two offices open an investigation to see if the Councilmember’s office ran afoul of DC law and the Council’s Code of Ethics by using government resources on behalf of an election.
The issue isn’t that emails went out to people on behalf of a political campaign — Frazier O’Leary, who won the Ward 4 SBOE seat, sent out emails to residents who had never interacted with him before. The issue is if an elected DC official used government resources to assist in a campaign.
This particular issue arose because of a November 30th email sent by Henderson. In the footer of the email is a link, “why did I get this?” The MailChimp page that came up stated the recipient was subscribed to the email list because, “You are receiving this email because you contacted Councilmember Todd in the past.” That’s the crux of the issue. If a constituent sent an email to Todd’s Council office, and then subsequently was sent an email from a different political campaign, and that email address was provided by the Council office, then the resources of his office could have been used to support Henderson.
Email addresses can be harvested in any number of ways — privacy rights in the US are pretty dismal. Recipients of the Henderson email could have had their addresses pulled from email listservs, from a political party that maintains email lists, from clipboard petitions, and so on. The question the letters from the ANC pose is to find out what actually transpired.
In a statement provided by Todd’s office, they deny that any government resources were used on behalf of Henderson’s campaign:
“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-mails directly or indirectly given to any campaign. Councilmember Todd looks forward to cooperating with any inquiries.”
At the ANC 4C meeting on December 12th, Commissioner Zach Teutsch introduced a resolution proposing two letters be sent to the Office of Campaign Finance and the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. (You can read PDF copies of the letters.) The proposed resolution came before the ANC at the end of the meeting, as the clock was running out for when the commission could use the space before the Petworth Library closed at 9pm.
Commissioner Teutsch began his presentation, saying “I gotta say, I don't want this to be a question about whether we like Brandon and his staff or not. I have sat on my porch with Brandon and I think he works very hard and I think he's a very lovely guy. I think the issue here is that we have a very serious matter. The information that is in the public strongly suggests that there has been really significant violations of campaign law."
Teutsch went on to say that it’s an issue of government trust and ensuring a fair process. He said they’re not censuring or pre-supposing what happened, but get to the bottom of what happened.
Councilmember Todd attended the ANC meeting, and asked to speak on the issue. He said, “Let me be very clear, that first 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."
He went on to say that he operates at the highest standards of ethics, as does his staff members.
After some back and forth discussion between the commissioners, the ANC voted to submit the letters with one vote against and one abstention. Below is a video of the somewhat contentious discussion on this topic from the December 12th ANC 4C meeting.
As some explanation for the video contents, a few times you’ll hear the overhead speaker come on with the library closing announcement. There was also a bit of verbal sparring between Commissioner Teutsch and Commissioner Maria Barry, the lone opposition vote to the resolution. In follow-up, Teutsch said he’s apologized for the interaction, which Barry accepted.