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Emily's List says Van Hollen is targeting its donors

Rep. Donna F. Edwards , right has accused Rep. Chris Van Hollen of being open to cutting Social Security benefits . The Democrats are both running for Senate.
Rep. Donna F. Edwards , right has accused Rep. Chris Van Hollen of being open to cutting Social Security benefits . The Democrats are both running for Senate. (Baltimore Sun)

Emily's List, the powerful women's group supporting Rep. Donna Edwards' bid for Senate, is accusing rival Rep. Chris Van Hollen of tapping into its campaign finance reports to identify donors in a complaint filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission.

The group, which is spending $1 million on advertising in the Baltimore market for Edwards, said their donors in 11 states received a solicitation from the Van Hollen campaign after it sent an email identifying him as a Republican. That email, the group said, was inadvertent.

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Campaigns are generally prohibited from relying on others' disclosure reports to identify potential supporters, though there are some exceptions. One of those exceptions, Emily's List acknowledges in its complaint, is to correct inaccurate information. But the group takes issue with Van Hollen's decision to also solicit campaign cash.

"It is illegal to use FEC data to target the donors of your opponent's campaign," Emily's List president Stephanie Schriock wrote to supporters in a subsequent letter. "It's wrong, and we are taking action to protect you from actors willing to abuse the system."

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In response, Van Hollen's campaign on Monday described the move by Emily's List as "politically motivated" and "frivolous."

"It is a gross violation of the public trust to attempt to mislead voters and raise money based on false representations," Van Hollen campaign manager Sheila O'Connell said in a statement. "This is just another misleading and reckless act by the Edwards campaign and its allies to hide the truth."

O'Connell, a former political director at Emily's List, did not directly deny in her statement that the campaign relied on Emily's List's FEC disclosure reports to identify where to send the solicitations.

By law, Emily's List is required to act independently of the Edwards campaign, and so it's not likely Edwards had anything to do with the initial email. But the error by the group -- describing Van Hollen as a Republican -- is a touchy one, however inadvertent. Edwards has repeatedly tried to cast Van Hollen as something other than a progressive Democrat.

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In its complaint to the FEC, Emily's List attorneys said the error was unintentional, limited to a "test audience" and quickly amended. Emily's List executive director Jessica O'Connell contacted the Van Hollen campaign and offered to send a corrected version of the email, the group said.

Both candidates are running to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, has amassed more money and is ahead in recent polling. But Edwards, of Prince George's County, is likely to get a boost from Emily's List's large advertising campaign.

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