Updated: Oct. 2, 2020 at 1:43 p.m.
The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance dismissed a complaint Friday that alleged Ward 2 D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto violated a campaign finance law.
Attorney Lauren Wolfe, who filed the complaint in June, alleged Pinto failed to report campaign expenditures for a $975,000 property that she used as her campaign headquarters while running in the Ward 2 special election and Democratic primary. Pinto denied the allegations, saying she planned “to initiate a sub-lease” at the location, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to change plans and work remotely instead of at the Q Street property.
Following OCF’s investigation into the dispute, the dismissal order states Wolfe failed to provide evidence that the property “served as a headquarters or functioned in any capacity” for Pinto’s campaign committee. Although Wolfe provided emails from Pinto that stated she planned to use the property as her campaign headquarters, OCF received evidence of later emails that canceled “in-person activity and up-coming events” at the site following the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the order for dismissal.
“Absent any actual evidence that the property at 1300 Q Street NW was utilized by the Committee as a campaign headquarters in some capacity, the complaint cannot be sustained,” the OCF order states.
The complaint put into question Pinto’s run for the Council earlier this year, through which she won the Ward 2 Democratic primary and later clinched a win in the special election to serve the remainder of former Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans’ term. Evans resigned from his seat on the Council in January following a tenure of nearly 30 years after a series of ethics investigations found he used his seat for personal gain on multiple occasions.
The dismissal comes in the midst of the buildup to the November general election, as three more candidates have joined Pinto in the race and criticized her alleged ethical lapse that they said will continue Evans’ legacy of corruption on the Council.
Pinto said in a release Saturday that the OCF’s ruling proves her campaign committed “no unsanctioned activity” before the primary and special election.
“I am gratified that OCF has completely dismissed all allegations in the complaint,” Pinto said in the release. “I look forward to continue serving the residents of Ward 2 and focusing on the important work of our city’s recovery.”
Pinto said Ward 2 voters can continue to trust her “to uphold the law and do so with the utmost in transparency.”
“From the outset of my campaign, I have paid careful attention to ethics,” she said. “Ethics have always been more important to me than politics. Our campaign plays by the rules, as the decision by OCF clearly indicates in the dismissal of the complaint.”
The dismissal order states Joseph Gonzalez, Pinto’s legal counsel, provided the OCF with several emails from February and March that show Pinto informing her campaign supporters that she had suspended in-person events before moving into the Q Street property.
In an email from March 13, Pinto told her supporters that in-person activities would be suspended for at least two weeks, which ran until Bowser’s stay-at-home order shutting down the city ended in late May, according to the order. The order states Pinto had only publicly announced plans via email to move into the Q Street property two days before the March 13 email.
Gonzalez said he’s “pleased” with the OCF’s decision to dismiss the allegations that cited “unsubstantiated sources and, in part, from innuendo and conjecture” and added to campaign expenses.
“I am disappointed that this allegation has led anyone to believe that Council member Brooke Pinto behaved with anything other than the highest regard for ethics and honesty,” he said.
Wolfe said she believes the OCF overlooked the evidence she provided in the complaint – photos that show a volunteer, balloons, yard signs and a tent decorating the exterior of the Q Street property. She said those photos from May and June indicate Pinto was able to use the area outside the building for campaign-related activities during the pandemic and should prompt city officials to further investigate Pinto’s finances.
“Everyone should know where the money behind their Council member is coming from,” Wolfe said in an interview. “Whether it’s on the D.C. Council or the president of the United States, we should know who’s behind the money of these politicians.”
Wolfe appealed the OCF’s dismissal last week, but she said she doesn’t think city officials will approve her request because she isn’t an “adverse party,” a candidate directly involved in the Ward 2 race. She said the controversy surrounding the Council member’s personal finances could be an issue that goes beyond the OCF since she believes Pinto’s wealth could influence the policy she enacts on the Council.
“The issue here is a lot greater than this OCF complaint,” Wolfe said. “I don’t think we’ve probably ever on Council seen somebody who has come from the wealth that Brooke Pinto has come from. Her family are multi-millionaires, and I think people need to seriously sit down and look at the money that is funding her family.”