A campaign advertisement says Pugh could turn out to be the mirror-image of former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who resigned in 2010 after being found guilty of embezzlement.
"Pugh & Dixon: Caught Red-Handed," the flier states prominently beneath a photo that blends photographs of Pugh and Dixon — both of whom are running for mayor.
The text below the photo describes how in 2009 Dixon was charged with 12 counts of theft, fraud, perjury and corruption. A jury found Dixon guilty that same year on one misdemeanor charge that she embezzled retail gift cards intended for needy families. The Democrat also pleaded guilty, in early 2010, to one count of perjury for failing to disclose on city ethics forms the gifts she received from a developer.
Pugh has never been in trouble with the law.
Yet the next sentence in the campaign mailer says that Pugh's campaign may have engaged in "illegal" conduct by accepting $54,000 in donations from unregistered companies and people who cannot be identified.
"Pugh also solicited $13,600 from lobbyists who have bills in front of her in Annapolis," the flier goes on to state. Such donations are permitted. Yet the flier cites an opinion from The Baltimore Sun's editorial page that says such donations should be illegal.
"Pugh argues she did nothing wrong — just like Sheila Dixon," it states. "Are these the headlines you want for the next four years?"
The negative left side of the campaign mailer is juxtaposed with the right side, which displays a photo of a smiling Embry surrounded by glowing headlines from the City Paper and The Sun.
"I think this is desperate and it's sad. The city deserves better than that," Pugh said of the ad.
Embry said she believes the flier is fair, though she conceded that the criminal actions of Dixon do not compare with allegations of campaign funding irregularities. But, she said, no one will know whether Pugh's campaign knew about the questionable donations until after they are probed by state officials.
The state Board of Elections recently forwarded to prosecutors a citizen's complaint that a developer, Armando Cignarale, used several different companies to give money to Pugh's campaign to circumvent donation limits. The conduct that the flier says is "illegal" refers to the donor, not Pugh's campaign, Embry said.
But, she added, only prosecutors can determine if the campaign was aware of such behavior.
"The culpability of the campaign has yet to be determined," she said.