By Len Lazarick
Comptroller Peter Franchot’s little known Republican opponent, Anjali Reed Phukan, said she plans to file an ethics complaint this week against the three-term incumbent for passing out embossed medallions that bear the authority line of his campaign committee.
Franchot has been passing out the coins to thousands of people for at least five years, reviving a tradition started by the late Comptroller Louie Goldstein. He served in the office for 39 years until his death 20 years ago this month.
Goldstein’s golden coins, simpler and lighter, bore his legendary send off,
“God bless you all real good.” It too bore the authority line of his campaign treasurer.
In 2013, Franchot told the Sun’s Michael Dresser, “Everyone asks me from time to time about where my gold coins are,” he said. “I finally got sick of it and had a really nice medallion made.”
In an emailed campaign newsletter Monday, Phukan said the distribution of the coins at official functions violates Maryland law because “an official may not intentionally use the prestige of his elected office for personal gain.”
“This means Comptroller Franchot is using his elected office to influence future personal elections when he gives Franchot Campaign Coins out on behalf of his office. His government work office is effectively a campaign office.”
“I believe that he is committing an ethics violation, but that he is doing so with a great smile,” Phukan said.
Asked about Phukan’s charge, Franchot’s official press secretary, Alan Brody, responded:
“Comptroller Franchot enjoys the opportunity to recognize Marylanders who, through their generosity and public service, are making a real difference within their communities, just as the incomparable Louis Goldstein did for so many decades.
“They have meant so much to so many people through the years, and it’s a tradition that will continue for as long as he’s in office. As a careful steward of taxpayer dollars, he will continue to pay for them out of his own account, as opposed to asking the people of Maryland to pay for them,” Brody said.
Phukan, 39, is a CPA and auditor who ran against Franchot as a write-in candidate in 2014. Both she and Franchot were unopposed in their party primaries this year.
Franchot’s coins say they are “In recognition of Excellence, Service and Sacrifice,” but the comptroller hands them out freely at will. This writer has received two of them, grandson Noah, then 8, got one two years ago at the Arbutus Fourth of July parade, and my wife was given one this July 4 before the parade.
Franchot’s campaign finance reports show he buys the coins from Capitol Gifts and Awards in Annapolis where he’s spent about $13,000 in the past 18 months. According to the firm’s website, custom coins start at about $4.50 a piece, indicating Franchot has purchased at least several thousand of the medallions.