Former Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who borrowed $500,000 from a union during the waning weeks of his unsuccessful 2014 run for governor, has begun to chip away at that debt.
Brown, who is now running for Congress, repaid $40,000 to the Laborers Political Education Fund in $10,000 increments between March and December, according to a campaign finance report he filed this week.
The money to repay that loan and other debts came largely from loans to the campaign fund made by Brown and his wife, Karmen. Together they lent $98,584 — money that could be difficult to ever recover.
Brown is now running for the Democratic nomination in Maryland's hotly contested 4th Congressional District. Incumbent Rep. Donna Edwards is giving up the seat to run for the Senate seat left vacant by the impending retirement of longtime Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said her organization was "concerned" by Brown's debt.
"There are certainly people who would wonder if his current run for Congress is partly motivated by a desire to retire that very significant debt," she said.
Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said "any sitting congressman has an enhanced ability to raise money over Joe Schmo."
If Brown were not holding office, Norris said, donors would have no reason to contribute to his state campaign account.
Brown has said the debt is not a motivation for his House run. He says he intends to pay the loan in full.
"As demonstrated in my efforts in 2015, I remain committed to fulfilling all of my obligations from the 2014 gubernatorial campaign," he wrote in an email Friday.
He did not respond to a question about how he planned to pay off the loan.
The loan was legal under Maryland election law, but Brown had to give the union his personal guarantee that it would be repaid.
Under the original terms, the loan was to be repaid by Election Day 2014. But the candidate instead poured all of his resources into a futile bid to hold off surging Republican candidate Larry Hogan.
Brown now has the remaining three years of the 2018 election cycle to pay the remaining $460,000 or face the possibility that the Maryland State Board of Elections could find that the loan was an illegal gift in excess of the state's contribution limits.
Had Brown won the gubernatorial race, it is likely that he could have quickly raised the money to repay the union. But the Democrat's loss in deep-blue Maryland, after a campaign that was widely criticized as tone-deaf, left him with little postelection fundraising ability.
Brown does not own the Bowie home he shares with his wife. The largest asset he listed in a recent disclosure filed with the U.S. House is a retirement account worth $500,000 to $1 million.
While he is now raising money for his House race, he is limited in how he can use those funds to retire his state debts. Brown's federal campaign did pay his state campaign $2,850 to rent his old mailing list.
In addition to the loan payments, Brown paid more than $86,000 in back salaries, expenses and unpaid bills. He reported almost $13,000 in outstanding bills in addition to the union loan.
Brown is one of eight Democrats who have filed in the competition to succeed Edwards.
The Prince George's County-centered district, one of two in the state with an African-American majority, is regarded as solidly Democratic. Among his rivals are two members of the General Assembly, Dels. Dereck Davis and Joseline Pena-Melnyk, and former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey.
Bevan-Dangel said the General Assembly should change the law that let Brown accept a loan that would have been illegal in a federal race.
"It's incentivizing our candidates to engage in risky behavior," she said. "And that's not fair to them."