A government watchdog group called on two gubernatorial campaigns to voluntarily forgo fundraising during the upcoming General Assembly session to comply with the spirit of Maryland ethics laws.
Both campaigns promptly declined.
The exchange Thursday came after a Maryland State Board of Elections ruling cleared the way for the campaigns of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, a Democrat, and Harford County Executive David R. Craig, a Republican, to raise money during the 90-day session despite a law preventing state officials from seeking political contributions during that period.
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said raising money from special interests during the time that state laws are made could contribute to a "public perception of corruption."
The election board ruling addressed the issue of gubernatorial candidates and their political partners seeking to be lieutenant governor. While Brown, as a state official, cannot raise money during the session, his running mate Ken Ulman — the Howard County executive — is a local official and thus free to do so.
Similarly, while Harford County's Craig can raise money, his running mate, Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, may not.
The running mates "just can't operate in coordination or cooperation with each other," said Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance at the Board of Elections. "The burden of independence is on the candidate."
The two campaigns said they would not change their plans to continue raising money when the session begins Jan. 8 and gave assurances that the state officials would not be influenced by donations received by their running mates.
Brown's campaign manager, Justin Schall, said in a statement that Ulman "has said all along that he would follow the letter of the law as defined by the Board of Elections." Ulman and Brown have separate fundraising staff and maintain a "firewall" between them, he said.
Craig's campaign manager, James Pettit, said that following Common Cause's advice to suspend fundraising is not only unnecessary, it would penalize Craig for selecting a running mate early in the election cycle.
"It suggests that your vote is for sale, and that's not how Jeannie operates," Pettit said, adding that the Republican ticket can't afford to lose time raising money in a state dominated by Democrats. "Let's face it: We need the money to get our message out."
The ruling doesn't apply to Brown and Ulman's political rivals for the Democratic nomination. Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County filed this week to accept public financing for her campaign, a move that allows her to accept low-dollar donations throughout the election cycle even though she is a state official.
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and his running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey of Prince George's County, are both state officials and are therefore banned from raising money during the session.
Gansler's campaign spokesman, Bob Wheelock, criticized the board's ruling and said donating to one half of the Brown-Ulman ticket is the same as donating to the campaign effort.
"It's one campaign; you can't draw a line down the middle," Wheelock said in a statement, adding that the Gansler campaign hopes courts overrule the Board of Elections. "Regardless, it's clearly unethical for one member of a ticket to continue raising money when the other member is barred from doing so. This does not even come close to passing the voter smell test."
The ruling also does not apply to two other Republicans in the race for governor. Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County is barred from collecting donations during the session and has not yet selected a running mate. Charles County business executive Charles Lollar is not subject to the session ban; he has not named a running mate.
Bevan-Dangel, of Common Cause, said her group understands why Brown and Craig don't want to abandon all fundraising for three months. She suggested they could promise to accept only small-dollar donations or create a firewall between the running mates for the duration of the session.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun