A complaint filed Friday in the city’s Office of Campaign Finance alleges that Ward 2’s newly elected councilmember may have violated campaign finance laws during the Democratic primary.
Brooke Pinto, who received the Democratic nomination to represent Ward 2 earlier this month, allegedly used a $975,000 property at 1300 Q St. NW as her campaign headquarters, even though she did not document any campaign expenditures in her campaign finance reports and pre-election report, attorney Lauren Wolfe said. Wolfe is requesting the OCF investigate her allegations, saying Pinto failed to report her campaign’s payment for the property.
Wolfe filed the complaint a day after Pinto declared victory as the Democratic nominee for Ward 2 councilmember, alleging that omitting the property from campaign finance reports could have violated the city’s campaign finance law.
Pinto’s parents rented the property shortly after she announced her campaign in February, and a limited liability company named 1300 Q Street NW LLC bought the house on Feb. 27, according to a Washington City Paper report. The article states that Pinto listed the property as her official campaign address on an AFL-CIO questionnaire less than a week later in addition to emails sent to supporters in March.
Wolfe alleges that Pinto’s family might have paid for her property themselves, which would serve as an illegal contribution to the campaign. Pinto said she intended to sublease the property before the COVID-19 pandemic caused her to scrap her plans and switch her campaign’s operations to a virtual format.
One section of the District’s campaign finance law quoted in the complaint states that anyone who omits or incorrectly states campaign finance information will receive a civil penalty of up to $4,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for the second offense. Wolfe alleges that Pinto may have also violated two other campaign finance law sections – “contribution limitations” and “contribution limitations related to families.”
“Ward 2 needs a politician of the highest ethical standard after what they’ve been through,” Wolfe tweeted after she filed the complaint. “Brooke Pinto is not that person.”
Pinto said she never used the property as her campaign headquarters because the pandemic forced her to adopt a “remote work policy” and cancel all in-person events that would have happened at the 1300 Q St. property. She said the changes she made to her campaign’s operation during the pandemic created a “false narrative” about her campaign finances.
“The OCF complaint rests upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts,” Pinto said in an email. “Although my campaign originally intended to use part of 1300 Q St. as a headquarters, the emergence of COVID-19 altered those plans. As a result, my campaign never rented, occupied or used the property.”
Pinto’s campaign fired its compliance vendor, a worker who was allegedly responsible for “several errors that were inexcusable and sloppy” in the campaign’s finance reports, according to WCP. Pinto amended her pre-election report following the firing, modifying her campaign expenditure total from $69,823 to $81,608.82, according to the updated version of the report.
Trupti Patel, a Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood commissioner, said the allegations were “very concerning,” especially after former Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans resigned from his post amid an ethics scandal.
“This doesn’t seem to be a mistake but a deliberate omission, and Ward 2 voters deserve better than a person that was elected who can’t even determine what is ethical and what isn’t,” she said.
Patel said she worries about Pinto’s ability to maintain integrity in the Council and hold her constituents accountable following the complaint.
“I completely think this damages her ethical outlook,” Patel said. “To me this shows that she didn’t do the due diligence of hiring an efficient and effective staffer.”