Hogan bus draws stares, raises eyebrows

When Republican Larry Hogan has someplace special to be in his bid for governor, he arrives in a giant, rock star-style bus emblazoned with his campaign logo.

The monstrous Change Maryland Express functions partly as a rolling billboard, a backdrop for photo ops that sparks chatter as it cruises into a new town.

Hogan, who owns a real estate company, purchased the brand-new bus a few weeks before the June 24 primary election, using personal funds.

But with its shower, Wi-Fi capability, computer equipment and custom campaign medallion affixed to a dining table, the 2015 Thor Windsport is also a mobile office, said campaign spokesman Adam Dubitsky. Accordingly, the campaign pays Hogan $683.77 a month as "office rent" to use the bus.

Campaign buses have long been a part of politicking, both in Maryland and for presidential bids. Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, for example, loved barnstorming so much he used the flag-festooned "Do It Now Bus" from his campaign throughout his administration.

"People recognize it everywhere we go," Dubitsky said of Hogan's bus, adding that the campaign has put 9,000 miles on it so far.

But such buses, whose appeal is clear to anyone seeking to draw attention to themselves as they crisscross a state, can also give candidates headaches.

"Candidates get in trouble when they don't properly account for the buses," said John T. Willis, a political scientist and executive in residence at the University of Baltimore.

Hogan's personal purchase of the bus has raised eyebrows at the Maryland State Board of Elections, which said Hogan has "miscategorized" when he considers an RV an office expense. And since Hogan opted to use public financing and accept $2.4 million in public money, his spending reports receive more detailed scrutiny by state officials, said Jared DeMarinis, director of campaign finance and candidacy.

"That's miscategorized," DeMarinis said. "It's not an office. It is more for transportation to and from events."

Dubitsky declined to say how much Hogan paid for the bus, but said the monthly payments from the campaign equal what Hogan pays to finance the bus. The make and model retails for $97,000 to $225,000, according to online sales information.

DeMarinis said the board will also look closely at whether the $683.77 monthly payment to Hogan is fair-market value for renting the bus, since it's illegal for anyone to offer freebies to campaigns in excess of donation limits.

The Democratic candidate in Kentucky challenging U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was caught up in controversy this summer over her bus use.

Alison Lundergan Grimes came under fire from Republicans for renting her 45-foot bus from her father at below-market rates, according to a report from Politico.

Grimes reportedly paid about $456 per day for her bus, and McConnell's campaign said it spent at least $2,200 per day to rent essentially the same bus during a swing through the state.

In Maryland, Democrat Anthony G. Brown's campaign called Hogan's bus a metaphor for the Republican's wealth.

"This opulent bus shows just how out of touch Hogan is," said Brown's campaign manager, Justin Schall. "For a lot of families in Maryland, that [amount of money would buy] a home to raise their kids in, not a fancy campaign toy."

Brown's camp, meanwhile, has campaign toys of its own. The Democrats purchased a Jeep — price tag $14,000 — that they wrapped in campaign logos. The campaign also has rented a cargo van from a Maryland rental company for approximately $1,000 a month, and wrapped it, too, in Brown campaign regalia.

Brown's rental van, much to the campaign's chagrin, bears Virginia license plates.



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