Of the half-dozen declared candidates for governor, Del. Ron George faces a unique challenge.
The Anne Arundel County lawmaker will go into the General Assembly session this January at a distinct disavangage against his known primary opponents. Because of his office, he will be forbidden to raise money directly for his gubernatorial campaign during the 90 days the Assembly meets from Jan. 8 and April 7. That ban does not apply to either of his announced opponents, Harford County Executive David R. Craig or Charles County business executive Charles Lollar. Nor would it apply to Larry Hogan, chairman of the conservative group Change Maryland, if he enters the race.
That rule is less likely to be a factor on the Democratic side because Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler are subject to the ban as statewide elected officials. So is Montgomery County's Heather R. Mizeur as a state delegate.
The rationale for the ban is that lawmakers could appear to be compromised if they are raising money from special interests at the same time the legislature may be considering bills in which those donors have a stake. The legislature has also decided that its members should be fully focused on lawmaking, rather than fund-raising, during those 90 days.
For George, it means he can't raise money for his own campaign account at a time when his rivals can.
"I don't think that's fair at all," he said.
One solution would be for George to resign, freeing him to raise all the money he can during that time. But the two-term delegate said he's decided not to do that. Rather, he said he may rely on his running mate -- not yet selected -- to raise money while he's under wraps. Lieutenant governor candidates who don't hold state office can raise money for their own campaign accounts during the session and later put it to use on behalf of the ticket.
George acknowledged that if he were to select a running mate from the legislature, he might have to ask that person to step down and take on the fund-raising role.
"It's not as effective, but I'm pretty confident," George said.
The provision regarding running mates could affect other campaigns as well. For instance, Craig running mate Jeannie Haddaway would be barred from fund-raising because she's a delegate. Meanwhile, Brown's lieutenant governor choice, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, is exempt because he's a county official. If Gansler or Mizeur were to choose a member of the legislature as a running mate, neither member of the ticket could raise money during session. That could be especially important for Gansler because most of the people who have been speculated about as possible running mates for him are lawmakers.
It gets more complicated that that, according to Jared DeMarinis, director of the State Elections Board's candidacy and campaign finance division.
If either county executive in the race were to decide to raise during the session, he would have to do so only for his own campaign accounts, DeMarinis said. Craig could not raise money for a combined Craig-Haddaway ticket account, and Ulman could raise funds only for Friends of Ken Ulman. DeMarinis said it would be advisable for the covered official -- in this case Brown or Haddaway -- to stay away from any fund-raisers for the running mate.
George said one thing he was considering was raising money during the session through a political action committee. But DeMarinis said the rules regarding PACs -- even though they may be clearly sympathetic to a particular candidate -- require a strict separation of activities and no coordination.
"If there is coordination that is one of the major thresholds," DeMarinis said. "It would be a triggering event for the prohibition at attach to the PAC."
The sanctions for violations are strict, he said. A campaign would have to return any contributions received improperly and would have to pay a fine of $1,000 plus the amount of the donation.
Beyond the legal issues, campaigns would have to consider whether fund-raising during the session is worth the scrutiny it would bring. Groups such as Common Cause, the election watchdog organization, would be likely to raise objections.