Gov. Larry Hogan allies form new political advocacy corporation

Supporters of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan have formed a new non-profit corporation aimed at influencing state policy.

The entity, called Change Maryland Inc., was created Feb. 1 by Hogan campaign chairman Thomas E. Kelso to engage in “public policy development, issue advocacy [and] grassroots organizing … in the state of Maryland,” according to its articles of incorporation.

Kelso, who is also chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, did not respond to requests for comment. The corporation is headquartered in downtown Baltimore, according to an online filing.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor, said the corporation is an outgrowth of Hogan’s previous Change Maryland policy advocacy effort, which sought lower taxes in the state and helped launch his first run for governor.

“Nearly a decade ago, Larry Hogan launched Change Maryland, which became the largest nonpartisan grassroots movement in state history, and ultimately led to his successful campaign for governor,” Chasse said. “Following his historic reelection, citizens supportive of the governor’s message and mission have formed a new Change Maryland organization, which has the governor’s full support to advance and promote his policies and issue priorities.”

In recent weeks, some so-called “Never TrumpRepublicans have been urging Hogan to run in a 2020 primary against President Donald Trump. But Chasse said the new entity has nothing to do with ambitions for higher office — and noted it may only operate in-state under its articles of incorporation.

In 2011, Hogan created the first organization called Change Maryland to draw attention to increasing taxes and fees and whip up discontent with the direction of the state. It accumulated about 275,000 followers on its Facebook page, which Hogan converted into his campaign's page.

In 2014, Maryland elections officials cleared Hogan of an ethics complaint filed by Republican rivals over his conversion of Change Maryland LLC into a campaign operation.

In a memo, elections officials said a loophole in state law permits corporations such as Change Maryland to test the water on behalf of candidates without disclosing donors or spending, as the candidates themselves must do.

The ruling came after two of Hogan's rivals in the Republican primary filed complaints with the State Board of Elections in May. The candidates alleged that Hogan broke election rules by turning the corporation behind his conservative advocacy operation — along with its resources — into the foundation for his campaign for governor.

Jared DeMarinis, the director of Candidacy and Campaign Finance for the Maryland State Board of Elections, wrote at the time that Hogan did, in fact, use the corporation for political "exploratory activities," but said that was legal. A Hogan campaign spokesman at the time called the complaint “politically motivated.”

DeMarinis said this week that the new Change Maryland organization has not yet filed paperwork with the Board of Elections.

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