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Brown files elections complaint against Gansler

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s campaign for governor filed a formal complaint against his chief rival Thursday, alleging Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler broke state law by organizing fundraisers during the General Assembly session.

Gansler’s fundraising chair Rachael Rice sent out an e-mail to supporters this week asking them to “save the date” for receptions after the session ends next week.

Gansler’s campaign spokeswoman Katie Hill confirmed those events were fundraisers, but said the campaign was allowed to promote them during session as long as they were not advertised as fundrasiers.

In a written complaint to the Maryland State Board of Elections Thursday, Brown’s campaign contended that even organizing such events – asking donors to host them and coordinating with Gansler about them – breaks the rules.

“We ask that the State Board of Elections take immediate action to investigate this unlawful behavior and ensure full compliance with Maryland election law,” lawyers for Brown wrote in the complaint.

State officials are barred from fundraising activity during the General Assembly session, which ends next week. Breaking that law carries a $1,000 penalty, plus the campaign has to refund any contributions and pony up that same amount in additional fines, elections experts said.

In an interview Wednesday, Jared DeMarinis, campaign finance and candidacy director for the Board of Elections said he had done a preliminary investigation into the Gansler “save the date” and did not find a violation. He said that none of the links to events gave any fundraising information, and that Rice does more than just fundraising for the campaign.

“Right now, it does not look like there is a per se violation,” DeMarinis said Wednesday, the day before the complaint was filed. “As more information comes to light or if the facts change, the analysis changes with it.”

In an interview Thursday, DeMarinis said that he could not comment on the complaint filed by Brown that alleges even organizing the fundraising events broke the law.

Hill called the complaint "complete nonsense."

Hill said that the “save the dates” were consistent with advice the Board of Elections issued late last year.

“There is no solicitation or dollar ask – there’s not even a phone number,” Hill said in an e-mail. “It’s an email to tell people to hold a date and time after session.”

Brown’s complaint marks the second legal salvo in the contentious Democratic primary race to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley. In January, Gansler supporters filed a lawsuit trying to stop Brown’s running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, from raising money during the legislative session.

The nuances of Maryland’s fundraising ban have come under scrutiny more than ever this year because the June 24 primary is two months earlier than the typical election date, leaving candidates less time to raise money.

Before the latest complaint was filed, DeMarinis said that given all the questions arising this election season, “this office will start developing stricter guidelines on what constitutes a fundraising event.”

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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