Senate candidates Kathy Szeliga, Chris Van Hollen spar over campaign finance

Stacks of $100 notes lay at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in May 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Stacks of $100 notes lay at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in May 2013 in Washington, D.C.(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic nominee for Maryland's open Senate seat, criticized his Republican opponent Thursday for hosting a fundraiser with the head of the nonprofit that fundamentally changed the nation's system of campaign finance.

Republican Senate nominee Kathy Szeliga, a state lawmaker from Baltimore County, has scheduled a fundraiser tonight in Carroll County with David Bossie, who helped to orchestrate the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed nonprofits to spend unlimited money on elections.


"Citizens United has been the driving force behind the deluge of secret outside money that is choking our democracy. Now they are coming into Maryland to get Delegate Szeliga to do their bidding," Van Hollen spokeswoman Bridgett Frey said in a statement. "Rather than embrace the architects of secret money in politics, Delegate Szeliga should publicly embrace the DISCLOSE Act and join Chris Van Hollen in calling for transparency, accountability, and an end to dark money in politics."

Van Hollen, an outspoken advocate on the issue of campaign finance, is the chief sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act, which among other things would require membership organizations to disclose their donors if they spend $10,000 or more supporting a candidate. That legislation became a central focus in the Democratic primary this year.

Szeliga's campaign responded by arguing that Van Hollen is being hypocritical. A spokeswoman noted that Van Hollen has taken heavily from lobbyists and lawyers over the course of his career, and she pointed to a $2,500 fine his House campaign committee paid to the Federal Election Commission in 2003 after it received donations that exceeded federal limits.

"For a career politician whose overwhelming source of campaign funds are lobbyists and lawyers, Congressman Van Hollen has set a new standard for D.C. hypocrisy," Szeliga spokeswoman Leslie Shedd said in a statement. "During his primary, a national PAC announced it would spend almost $1 million on television ads for him. And Congressman Van Hollen has been fined by the FEC for his connections to a PAC that improperly accepted donations. That's a remarkable record of hypocrisy."

The 2003 fine involved two leadership PACs created by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to help fellow Democrats across the country. The donations from those two entities to other candidates, when combined, exceeded federal donations limits. The PAC itself was fined more than $21,000, and was dissolved. Van Hollen's congressional campaign received donations from the two PACs.

This year, a super PAC tied to the National Association of Realtors spent nearly $1 million on Van Hollen during his primary fight with Rep. Donna Edwards, including on television advertisements. The Van Hollen campaign had no control over that spending and, in fact, had made an effort early in the campaign to rebuff all outside spending that was rejected by Edwards.

The back and forth marks the first time the two campaigns for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's seat have criticized each other directly. (Van Hollen's campaign had noted the fundraiser in a separate email to supporters on Tuesday).

At least one outside group, Common Cause Maryland, also took issue with the fundraiser.


"At a time when voters are overwhelmingly frustrated and incensed by the corrupt flow of money in our political system, it is disheartening and unfortunate to see a Senate candidate highlight the president of Citizens United at a political fundraiser," the group's executive director, Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, said in a statement distributed by the Van Hollen campaign.

Bossie, who endorsed Szeliga during the primary, has emerged an important player on the Maryland political scene. The Montgomery County resident was elected Maryland's Republican national committeeman last month, unseating longtime incumbent and former state party chairman Louis Pope.

Bossie, a former chief investigator for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led Republican investigations of President Bill Clinton's administration, including the Whitewater controversy and a scandal involving political donations from agents of the Chinese government.