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New Maryland rules would curb some uses of campaign funds

Proposed Maryland rules would forbid using campaign funds for foreign travel, tuition

New rules proposed by the State Board of Elections would forbid candidates from dipping into their political funds to pay for such things as foreign travel, tuition or mounting a legal defense to charges unrelated to the campaign.

The proposals are not among the batch of regulations Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan and his campaign expressed concern about this week, as he accused Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley of trying to sneak last-minute policy changes into the Maryland code. They are, however, among the regulations scheduled to be reviewed by a General Assembly committee before they go into effect.

Jared DeMarinis, campaign finance director at the elections board, said the governor's office played no role in the content or timing of the proposed rules. He said the bipartisan board, an independent agency, approved the proposals unanimously at its October meeting.

"The Republican Party always has a say in these regulations," he said, adding that the proposals will go to the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review and will be subject to a period of public comment. If no serious changes are made, the rules would likely come back to the board for approval in March, he said.

Adam Dubitsky, a Hogan transition spokesman, said the campaign is reviewing regulations now in the pipeline, but said it would be premature to comment on them.

The new election rules address questions such as how campaign contributions may be raised and spent. DeMarinis said many of them reflect long-standing "guidance" letters from the attorney general's office. He said the Office of the State Prosecutor advised him that converting that advice into regulations would make it easier to enforce election laws.

In addition to the ban on some uses of campaign funds, the board is proposing explicit rules on what actions violate the state's longtime ban on legislators and statewide elected officials raising money during the General Assembly session.

Among the practices banned is one in which officials send out a notice during the 90-day session to "save the date" — code in political circles for announcing a fundraiser. The rules would also prohibit a campaign from having an active contribution link posted on the Internet during the session.

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said she was especially pleased to see the "save the date" loophole closed.

DeMarinis said the prohibition against using campaign funds to finance a legal defense against charges unrelated to the campaign goes back to the case of late Baltimore Del. Tony Fulton.

He was charged in 1999 with federal mail and wire fraud. The attorney general's office advised against using campaign funds for his legal defense, but that has not been a formal rule, DeMarinis said. Fulton was eventually acquitted.

Bevan-Dangel welcomed the ban on that use of campaign money. "If you make bad decisions, your campaign shouldn't cover that."

She also praised some other proposed rules, saying, "You're not getting voters if you're not in the country." Spending on tuition, she added, benefits a candidate more personally than politically.

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