When Democratic gubernatorial candidate Douglas F. Gansler's campaign sent out a notice of an event on Thursday, something looked wrong: The anti-bullying forum was scheduled at a Prince George's County public school during class hours -- something that normally isn't allowed for a political function.
But there it was in Wednesday's news release: "Democratic gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler will lead an anti-bullying event at Walker Mill Middle School on Thursday November 21 to challenge the Middle School Students to join the 'I Choose' campaign."
A call to the Attorney General's Office established that Gansler had been invited in his official capacity. An organizer for the nonprofit Links Inc., Montina Anderson, confirmed that the organization was expecting Gansler there in his role as an attorney general who has taken an interest in the issue of bullying in the schools. Walker Mill's principal, Nicole Clifton, confirmed that the program would be strictly apolitical.
Jennifer-Bevan Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said that while the matter falls short of a scandal Gansler had crossed into a "gray area."
"The campaign staff, if they're not careful, can start to blur the line between official public service and the campaigns," she said. "If they're letting the lines get blurry, they're heading down a slippery slope."
Bevan-Dangel said official and campaign events should be kept rigorously separate. She said the best practice is for the official staff to put out notice of government activities and the campaign staff to alert the media to political functions -- consulting only to avoid scheduling conflicts.
Justin Schall, campaign manager for Gansler rival Anthony G. Brown, said that's precisely how the lieutenant governor balances his competing roles. He pointed to a recent day Brown devoted to the issue of domestic violence, where the lieutenant governor had an official tour followed by a campaign policy announcement. In that case, he said, the lieutenant governor's State House office sent out notice of the tour and the campaign put out word of the announcement.
It was not the first time the nature of Gansler events became confused. Last week a tour of a shelter that helps homeless veterans -- promoted on the campaign schedule -- turned out to be an official event.
Bob Wheelock, Gansler's communications director, took the blame for any confusion. "This was Bob Wheelock's mistake," he said.
Wheelock, a former television journalist who is new to the political spokesman game, said the Gansler campaign would change the way it interacts with the official side.
"We'll try to better coordinate," he said.