Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler opened a new line of attack Tuesday against fellow Democrat Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown: campaign contributions from donors with links to the flubbed Maryland health exchange.
Gansler's gubernatorial campaign said Tuesday that it had identified more than $33,000 in donations from companies, lobbyists and executives with ties to the exchange in recent campaign finance reports that Brown has filed in the race for governor.
The Gansler campaign asked whether it was appropriate for Brown to accept those donations when he oversaw the exchange. Brown's campaign shot back that Gansler has accepted donations from law firms that do business with the attorney general's office.
Gansler and his running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey, plan to release Web advertisements this week questioning the propriety of the donations.
"Lieutenant Governor Brown has been asleep at the switch when it comes to doing his job, but wide awake with outstretched hands when it comes to taking campaign contributions," Gansler campaign spokesman Bob Wheelock said in statement.
"Campaign contributions have absolutely no role in policy decisions or governing," said Brown campaign manager Justin Schall. "It is hypocritical of Attorney General Gansler to suggest otherwise when he himself has accepted tens of thousands of dollars from attorneys who have business with the state."
The volleys come in the race for the Democratic nomination to succeed Gov. Martin O'Malley — and suggest that the attacks are likely to continue as the June 24 primary approaches.
A Baltimore Sun analysis found that at least $6,200 in donations to Brown came from contractors hired to work on the exchange and $13,850 came from executives of insurance companies that sold policies through it.
The exchange vendors who donated to Brown held state contracts totaling $37.9 million, according to online records.
The financial connections between Brown's bid for governor and some of the contractors who built the exchange he oversaw drew comment from the advocacy group Common Cause Maryland.
The amount verified by The Sun is small in comparison to Brown's more than $7 million campaign account, but Common Cause asked whether firms that do business with the state should be able to donate to state officials.
"It's not that there's a pay-to-play relationship, but there is a different level of access and influence that comes from being a campaign donor," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, the group's executive director. "It definitely should be part of the discussion."
Maryland's glitch-ridden online insurance marketplace has struggled since its launch Oct. 1, prompting insurance carriers to extend deadlines for coverage at least three times as the state hurried to fix major problems.
Brown assumed a leadership role in overseeing the exchange in Maryland, and appeared before two Senate panels last week to explain what went wrong.
As inquiries in Annapolis continue, the Gansler campaign has used the troubled exchange as ammunition with which to attack Brown's leadership.
Brown's campaign had a record fundraising year, collecting nearly three times as much as Gansler's and closing the multimillion-dollar advantage that Gansler's had enjoyed the year before.
Brown and his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, raised $5.3 million in the past year.
Several of the lobbyists that the Gansler campaign says work for the companies with interests in the exchange have multiple clients and might have had multiple reasons for donating to the Brown campaign.
For example, lobbyist Rick Abbruzzese, who donated to Brown, worked for O'Malley for seven years before getting into the lobbying game last year. Like many former staff members, Abbruzzese has a long-standing relationship with the lieutenant governor.
The campaign of Del. Heather R. Mizeur, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, declined to comment. Mizeur has opted to accept public financing in the race, which means individuals may contribute no more than $250 to her campaign.
Wheelock, Gansler's campaign spokesman, said donations from law firms that did business with the state are different because those contracts were awarded through the state's competitive bid process.
"The fact is Lt. Gov. Brown directly raised thousands and thousands of dollars from the vendors he was tasked with overseeing in his failed management of the state's health exchange," Wheelock wrote in an email. "No amount of finger-pointing can change that."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun