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Carroll GOP club officers are cleared of violations

The Baltimore Sun

Two officers of the Carroll County Republican Club Inc. were acquitted of campaign finance violations yesterday in Carroll County Circuit Court.

Club President Scott Hollenbeck, 43, of Westminster and treasurer Suzanne Primoff, 56, of Woodbine and Loxahatchee, Fla., had been charged with illegally spending campaign funds on ads endorsing county commissioner candidates in September's Republican primary, according to the November lawsuit filed by the state prosecutor's office.

The political club - formed a month before the primary - did not register as an official political action committee or file financial disclosure reports with the state, the lawsuit stated.

While political committees generally have to register and file financial reports with the state, the law is unclear on whether a political club has to disclose its campaign financial activity, election officials have said.

Judge Vincent J. Femia said the state failed to prove Hollenbeck and Primoff acted with criminal intent by engaging in campaign finance as an unregistered club.

"Given the uncertainty in this area of law, this organization cannot be required to form as a political committee," said Femia, a retired Prince George's County Circuit Court judge brought in after Carroll judges recused themselves from the case. "I find this law is very, very ambiguous."

State prosecutors said legislators should clarify some of these loopholes.

"It's now up to the General Assembly, if they want to take action," state prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said after the verdict.

South Carroll Del. Susan W. Krebs, a Republican, said she hoped to redraft a bill, first introduced last spring, that would prohibit political clubs from engaging in campaign finance without forming an affiliated political action committee.

Defense attorney Richard F. Boddie cited another unregistered political group that was not penalized for sponsoring ads for a slate of Carroll County commissioner candidates before the Republican primary in 2002.

State election officials recommended, but did not require, the Responsible Republicans of Carroll County LLC to register as a political action committee. The state did not file charges.

The Responsible Republicans of Carroll County had campaigned against Ed Primoff, Suzanne Primoff's husband, a conservative Republican county commissioner candidate who lost in the 2002 primary.

The state prosecutor's office said the Carroll County Republican Club had $23,050 in a bank account, including $13,000 in contributions from the Primoffs and $5,000 from Hoby Wolf, a club member. The money funded ads in local papers that attacked the incumbent commissioners and endorsed a conservative slate of GOP challengers.

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