A long-anticipated list of donors to a legal-defense fund established to benefit Baltimore political power couple Nick and Marilyn Mosby became public Wednesday — minus the names of the more than 130 donors.
The list, which was released by a public information officer for the Baltimore Board of Ethics, was expected to offer a public accounting of who donated to the fund. It was established in 2021 to benefit the Mosbys in the midst of a federal investigation into their financial dealings. Nick Mosby wasn’t charged; his wife is awaiting trial.
The fund was at the center of a Board of Ethics ruling last year against Nick Mosby, the Baltimore City Council president and a Democrat. The board found he violated the city’s ethics ordinance by indirectly soliciting for the fund and by failing to include it on his annual ethics disclosure form.
After contesting the ruling for nearly a year, Mosby complied Monday with an order from the board to provide information about the fund.
The donor list the board released Wednesday, however, sheds no light on who gave to the Mosbys. The names, emails and addresses of each donor were blacked out on the seven-page document.
Left visible was the amount of each donation, the bank or financial institution of each donor and their ZIP codes. The majority of the $14,352 raised was received from people living in Maryland, although payments also came in from out-of-state locales such as Georgia, Louisiana and Ohio. Someone gave $3, while the biggest gift was $5,000.
City ethics officials offered a brief explanation for the redaction in response to The Baltimore Sun’s Maryland Public Information Act request for the donor list.
The names constitute “information about the finances of an individual,” said Maura Romo, the board’s public information officer.
Romo cited a provision in state law that protects portions of a record that “contains information about the finances of an individual, including assets, income, liabilities, net worth, bank balances, financial history or activities, or creditworthiness.”
Baltimore’s Law Department often advises city agencies on public information requests, but Solicitor Ebony Thompson said the department was not consulted regarding the donor list.
Baltimore attorney Jerry Martin, who specializes in white-collar criminal cases, questioned the financial argument for the redaction.
“It’s really not an ethics question. It’s a question of common sense,” he said. “None of that applies.”
“The whole idea was to let people know who contributed,” Martin said. “I don’t understand why anybody who has a brain would redact this stuff, other than being under pressure from someone.”
Martin likened the defense fund donations to those made to political candidates. Such donations are publicly disclosed in state campaign finance filings that list donors, their addresses and the amount each contributed.
“If I contribute to Marilyn Mosby’s campaign, that becomes public knowledge. Why is this different?” Martin asked.
But the fund is not governed by state campaign finance law.
Under city law, a contribution to such a fund can count as a gift to a public official. In some cases, such gifts aren’t permitted. In others, they must be disclosed in the annual ethics report.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Among the gifts that are barred under Baltimore’s ethics ordinance are those from “controlled donors.” Public officials also can’t solicit gifts for such funds, whether directly or indirectly.
In the case of Nick Mosby, controlled donors are anyone who seeks to do business with council, the council president’s office, the Board of Estimates or any city governmental or quasi-governmental entity the council president is affiliated with. Also included are subcontractors doing business with or seeking to do business with the above groups, and those who engage in activities regulated or controlled by those groups.
The Board of Ethics found Mosby received at least two donations from controlled donors, including the largest gift of $5,000, which it said was from the “resident agent” for a contractor that is a city-certified minority- or woman-owned business. The business was a subcontractor on a deal considered by the city’s spending board in 2020, the board reported.
Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill struck down that finding last month, however, while upholding two other findings: that Mosby illegally raised money for the fund on an indirect basis and that he failed to disclose the fund on his annual ethics filing in 2022.
Mosby was ordered to accept no payments from the fund and to ask organizers to stop raising money on his behalf. The council president also was ordered to request from the fund a list of all donors and donations for the ethics board.
Mosby complied with the order late Monday, a deadline set by the Board of Ethics before the group would impose fines of up to $1,000 per day.
The fund was created in 2021 to benefit Mosby and his wife, who was then Baltimore state’s attorney. Marilyn Mosby is facing charges of perjury and making false statements related to early withdrawals from her city retirement account and the purchase of two Florida houses.