Baltimore County Council Chairman Julian Jones violated county policy when some of his official emails to constituents included a “donate” button for his political campaign, an investigation by the county inspector general found.
A report released Tuesday by Inspector General Kelly Madigan concluded that between April 2021 and January 2022, at least 40 of Jones’ emails to constituents contained a link to a campaign contribution page.
The emails were sent using a third-party email marketing service and transmitted through a private computer server, according to the report. But they used one of Jones’ county email addresses in the “from” line, and replies to those emails went through a county computer server.
The IG report cites policy prohibiting the use of county email for anything other than “county business.”
The report does not name Jones, referring to him only as “the Councilmember,” but contains exhibits depicting Jones’ emails. The inspector general’s office began investigating after receiving a complaint this past December that he was sending campaign-related emails from a county government address.
The report concludes that “it does not appear the violations were done intentionally based on the explanation provided by the Councilmember, nor is there a basis for the Office to question the validity of the Councilmember’s version of what transpired.”
Madigan found that on two occasions, constituents replied to say they intended to donate to his campaign.
Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, told The Baltimore Sun he uses the private email service for various purposes, including constituent bulletins about community events and resources. The service, which he said he pays for from campaign funds, has a range of templates, from news releases to campaign news, he said. He said uses it only for emails to large groups of recipients.
The issue arose because someone used the wrong template for constituent-related emails, he said.
Jones said he only realized those emails contained a “donate” button when he learned earlier this year what Madigan was investigating. His emails with the button included notices of vaccine clinics, a town hall meeting and similar events.
“The minute I found out about it, we changed it,” he said.
Several people had access to the email service, including Jones, one of his legislative aides and a few unpaid volunteers, according to the inspector general’s report.
In an official letter responding to the report, Jones wrote that there was no evidence the “donate” button resulted in any campaign contributions. The two replies mentioning contributions were unrelated to the “donate” button, he wrote.
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The inspector general’s role has been a source of controversy in Baltimore County government. Some council members, including Jones, have questioned Madigan’s tactics. Jones said he took issue with Madigan reading through months of his emails as part of her investigation.
“I’m willing to accept responsibility,” he said. “The question is, why do you need to research and look at every one of my emails?”
The report says the inspector general’s office reviewed emails associated with one of his county email addresses from April 1, 2021, to Jan. 28, 2022.
In a written response to Jones’ concerns about the scrutiny, Madigan stood by her actions, saying such an investigation serves to “reassure the citizens of the County that there is transparency in their County government.”
“Any email address ending with the domain name ‘@baltimorecountymd.gov’ belongs to the County, and any use of that domain name, even by accident, for a purpose that is not solely related to County business, is a technical violation of the Policy,” she wrote. “When such an infraction occurs repeatedly over an extended period of time, which is what took place in this matter, it certainly warrants the Office’s involvement.”
Jones, first elected in 2014, represents communities including Woodlawn, Randallstown and parts of Owings Mills and Reisterstown. He is unopposed in the July primary election.