By Glynis Kazanjian
State election officials are scheduled to rule Thursday on the first of three campaign finance violation complaints filed in the contentious race for governor, but the two most serious complaints won’t likely be resolved till after the election.
Civil penalties could be imposed on Larry Hogan’s Change Maryland organization.
Another complaint involving possible collusion between the Brown-Ulman campaign, its chief fundraiser and a political action committee (PAC) supporting Brown is still under investigation.
Election officials will have only 27 days before early voting begins Oct. 23 to resolve the remaining complaints. Jared DeMarinis, state elections board director of Candidacy and Campaign Finance, said probes of campaign finance violations may not be concluded even by Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4.
“There is no specific timeframe on those,” DeMarinis said. “There is no set timetable.”
Common Cause Maryland, a grassroots citizens advocacy group, is concerned that voters will be disenfranchised by not knowing the facts about the candidates — Lt. Gov, Anthony Brown (D) and former Ehrlich appointments secretary Larry Hogan (R) — before casting their votes. Libertarian candidate Shawn Quinn is not involved
First complaint dates back to July
The Maryland Democratic Party filed the first complaint July 24, alleging Hogan’s grassroots organization Change Maryland broke campaign finance laws in a number of areas over the last year. A vote to seek a civil penalty such as a fine is scheduled for Thursday at the State Board of Elections, DeMarinis said.
The next complaint was filed on Sept. 4 by the Hogan campaign against Friends of Anthony Brown, One State, One Future PAC and Martin-Lauer Associates. Martin-Lauer is the Brown campaign’s chief fundraiser, and also consults for One State, One Future, a PAC supporting Brown for governor. The complaint alleges “coordination” took place between the Brown campaign and One State, One Future through Martin-Lauer.
DeMarinis said that the investigation would be thorough and would require looking into three separate entities. He confirmed there are provisions in the law where civil or criminal penalties could apply to the complaint’s allegations.
“We will review the matter, and if a violation of the election law is discovered, then the matter would be referred to the state prosecutor’s office,” DeMarinis said.
On Sept. 9, the Maryland Democratic Party filed a second complaint against Hogan for underreporting the value of the large bus that he uses for campaigning. The value of the bus and the appropriate monthly rental fees are being disputed.
PAC supposed to be independent
Of biggest concern among the complaints is that coordination has occurred between a political action committee and a campaign. By law, PACs must remain independent in nature, otherwise campaign finance limits set for elections are exceeded and the purpose of them diminished.
“We are concerned about independent expenditures and the fear of coordination,” Common Cause executive director Jennifer Bevan-Dangel. “With the Brown campaign, we can’t legally say coordination has occurred, but it certainly has raised a lot of questions. There is so much ability for these third parties to put out ads and influence debate. If we can’t keep coordination tightly defined, it does put the election season at risk.”
Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College, said the collusion complaint is important.
“It matters because of the proliferation of big money outside interest groups,” Eberly said. “If campaigns are finding ways to circumvent the coordination prohibition then limits set on donations to individuals would be meaningless.”
“Democrats have been the most vocal critics of recent Supreme Court rulings allowing more money in politics, such as Citizens United and McCutcheon,” Eberly said. “Even Brown and O’Malley publicly criticized them, so if the Brown campaign is bypassing the law to maximize spending and avoid donation limits it would be a major embarrassment . . . if any of it is true.”
Integrity of campaign finance system at stake, Republican says
Hogan campaign spokesman Adam Dubitsky said he believes there are a multitude of examples that show coordination and added that if people care about the integrity of the campaign finance system they should worry about unlimited and unrelated funds flowing into a campaign.
“The law seems to say very clearly, when you have a super PAC and a campaign sharing consultants, data and strategy, you have coordination,” Dubinsky said. “Clearly a top fundraising consultant would have access to all of that.”
Dubitsky also said a state that is controlled by one political party becomes arrogant.
“It’s a one-party-rule system, and people know they are not going to be called on their errors, lapses of judgment or outright fraud. There is no more liability in Annapolis,” he said.
Brown-Ulman campaign spokesman Justin Schall called for a timely conclusion on all the complaints.
“The Board of Elections has a process and we have no control over what that process is or how long it takes,” Schall said. “This campaign has and always will follow the letter of the law.”