After nasty flyers were sent out in the 2017 mayoral election, a proposed bill would require outside groups or individuals to report large expenditures made in support of or opposition to a political candidate or ballot question.
The ordinance, O-15-21, borrows heavily from Maryland election law, which for years has required the reporting of independent expenditures — that is spending money to specifically advocate about an issue or political candidate that isn’t in coordination with a campaign, committee or related party.
Alderman Rob Savidge, D-Ward 7, sponsored the bill. If a person or group spends more than $5,000 or $10,000 on such an endeavor, it would need to be reported to the city elections board within 48 hours, according to the proposed law.
Contained in these reports would be the identity of the person making the expenditures or the person “exercising direction or control over the activities” of that person, according to the bill. Groups would also have to report information such as the individual amounts and dates of each expenditure during the reporting period; to whom the money was paid; and specifically, indicate which candidate or ballot question the individual expense is related to and if it is in support or opposition.
At a public hearing for the ordinance on Monday, no members of the public submitted written or live testimony. The bill was referred to the Rules and City Government standing committee for further deliberation.
Savidge, who is running for reelection this fall, said he sponsored the bill in part because of the rancorous end to the 2017 election cycle in which a set of controversial flyers were sent throughout the city that contained crude language to describe the campaigns of Mayor Gavin Buckley and Alderwoman Elly Tierney, D-Ward 1, both Democrats. Former mayor Mike Pantelides, an incumbent Republican running against Buckley at the time, denounced the flyers as “hateful speech.”
“What bothered me is no one knew who was behind it,” Savidge said of the flyers. “If somebody is going to be making any kind of attacks or accusations, they should have to be transparent. In many ways that is really important to have fair and transparent elections.”
It was later reported by The Capital that the flyers were funded by Preserve Annapolis Now, a group formed by Doug Burkhardt, a former Republican candidate. The group was funded in part by several prominent Anne Arundel County Republicans, including the campaign of former County Executive Steve Schuh.
Burkhardt defended his actions at the time saying he wanted to protect the city.
Reached by phone Monday, Burkhardt said the bill was “basically trying to stifle free speech.”
“We’re not candidates. We’re people trying to earn a living and live in a safe and comfortable city and to stifle our free speech is criminal in my opinion,” Burkhardt said.
Schuh said he wondered if Savidge favored the authors of The Federalist Papers being required to reveal themselves. The Federalist Papers were pseudonymously written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay explaining the U.S. Constitution and promoting its ratification.
The inclusion of independent expenditure reports in City Code is long overdue as state election officials have been urging the city to update its election laws for years, said Eileen Leahy, chair of the Board of Supervisors of Elections. Leahy helped craft the bill with the assistance of the city Office of Law.
“I think we can all agree it needs revision,” Leahy said of current city election law.
In 2018, Jared DeMarinis, director of Candidacy and Campaign Finance for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said the city needed to “modernize their election code for this age.” At that time, Savidge and former Ward 5 alderman Marc Rodriguez called for the city to adopt reporting requirements similar to the state.
Political candidates are held to a high standard for reporting their spending and so should outside groups, Savidge said.
The ordinance lays out rules for larger expenditures — $25,000 or more — for which a registered local agent would need to be identified as a representative for the group spending that money.
Assistant City Attorney Ashley Leonard, who drafted the legislation, said a local agent would be a necessary go-between if, for instance, the expenditure was made by a large company.
The identity of anyone who spent $6,000 or more cumulatively during a given period would also have to be reported.
Failing to file the new reports would come with penalties.
For every day that an individual expenditure report is overdue, it would cost $1,000 or 10% of the amount of donations or individual expenditures that weren’t reported, whichever is higher. If a report is filed late more than four weeks before a primary or general election, the daily cost drops to $100.
Other reporting requirements include publishing the expenditure report within 24 hours of it becoming public by either distributing it to shareholders, members or donors or publishing a link on the homepage of a website. The report must remain public until the end of the election cycle.
The Morning Sun
Among the other scheduled public hearings, several community members submitted written testimony in opposition to a proposed 1.43% real property tax increase for the next fiscal year. That public hearing will remain open until June 7.
The council closed a hearing on the fiscal 2022 budget. The body is set to meet Thursday to discuss proposed budget amendments. A final vote on the spending plan is expected on June 14.
No legislation was up for final approval Monday.
The council approved the introduction of a handful of new bills.
- Including another election-related ordinance, O-18-21, that would change the day the Board of Supervisors of Elections begins canvassing to the next business day following city elections.
- Buckley introduced a charter amendment, CA-1-21, to establish the Office of Community Services, a long-sought addition to the city’s organizational structure that will eventually house social workers, therapists and other community-oriented employees to connect residents with existing resources.
- The mayor cosponsored another bill, O-16-21, to give the oversight of maintaining chickens within the city to the Planning and Zoning Department.
- A third Buckley-sponsored bill, O-17-21, would remove the current requirement of water and/or sewer customers who live outside the city to make annual payments to the city in the amount of the real property taxes they would pay if they lived within city limits.
- Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, introduced O-19-21, establishing a new way for residents to provide testimony for development applications.