Gov. Martin O'Malley's federal political action committee accepted more than $73,000 in contributions during this year's General Assembly session — donations that would have been unlawful if they had been directed to a state campaign.
Because the money was sent to a campaign account set up under federal law, the governor's O' Say Can You See PAC could accept the money.
Nevertheless, the public might wonder whether the federal account was intended as a "runaround on the prohibition on raising funds during the session," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Maryland executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause.
"There's no obvious outrage, [but] it does raise questions," she said.
Reports released this week showed the PAC received roughly $500,000 in donations during the first six months of this year.
An O'Malley spokeswoman, Lis Smith, said the governor did not solicit contributions during the 90-day session from Jan. 9 to April 8. While federal reports show money being received by the PAC during that period, Smith said $43,000 was raised at an event Jan. 7 but recorded later. She said the PAC went "above and beyond" what it had to do by disabling the "contribute" button on its website during the session.
One donation that stands out for its timing was $2,500 donated by Lockheed Martin's PAC on Feb. 6 — just five days after legislation was introduced to give Lockheed Martin a break on the local hotel taxes it was paying at an employee training center its operates in Montgomery County.
The legislation, which split that county's delegation, ultimately was passed and signed into law by O'Malley, though there is no indication he made it an administration priority. Two leading opponents of the measure said they saw no sign that the governor or his staff were advocating for the bill.
The Bethesda-based company said the gift was not an attempt to win political support for a piece of legislation.
"We support a wide range of federal, state and local political leaders based on their level of interest and commitment in national security, homeland security, and other issues of importance to the corporation including education and technology," it said in a statement.
The O' Say Can You See PAC is widely understood to be a vehicle for financing O'Malley's effort to test the waters for a possible presidential run in 2016. Along the way, he has used it to make contributions to fellow Democrats in other states, such as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, the site of the nation's first primary.
Bevan-Dangel said one reason for the prohibition on donations to state accounts during the General Assembly session is to make sure there is no appearance of vote-buying in the legislature. Another, she said, is to make sure officeholders can "focus on their jobs" during the session.
Smith said there should be no question where the governor's attention was during this year's session — one in which he won passage of his entire legislative agenda.
"I don't think anyone would say he wasn't 100 percent focused on getting his ambitious agenda through this session," Smith said.
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