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Politics

Longtime Baltimore sheriff raised thousands from his staff for reelection; employees also have worked on campaigns

In the office of longtime Baltimore Sheriff John Anderson, it’s all hands on deck during campaign season — including his own city employees.

A review of Anderson’s campaign finance reports dating back a decade shows multiple members of his city staff regularly worked for the sheriff’s campaigns. City employees put up campaign signs, completed campaign finance reports and managed his field operation, the reports show.

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Staff of the office also supported Anderson with donations — and in a big way. During the most recent election cycle, he collected almost $23,000 in individual donations from employees. An additional $15,000 flowed into campaign coffers via dozens of tickets that sheriff’s office staffers purchased to his fundraisers, according to the campaign filings.

In total, Anderson’s campaign raised about $103,000 over the last four-year campaign cycle.

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Baltimore Sheriff John Anderson attended a safety seminar for older adults in 2014 at a public housing apartment building in Park Heights.

Neither the donations nor the payments violate the law. Anderson’s campaign finance reports disclose the payments to staffers who worked on his campaign, as required.

However, using public employees for campaign work is a murky area that creates opportunity for ethical issues, said John Dedie, a professor at Community College of Baltimore County.

“The problem is it would be very easy to cross into those areas,” he said. “You’re working on something, and someone says, ‘We need to do this campaign thing.’ No one says, ‘Well, let me sign out.’”

Anderson, who responded through sheriff’s office public information officer Sabrina Tapp-Harper, defended his office’s practices.

“We ensure that the time that employees are designated on the polls or the time that they’re working the polls, they’re not actually working for the sheriff’s office during that time,” she said. “There is no conflict.”

Anderson’s lengthy tenure — he took office in 1989 — is about to end. He was defeated in July by former deputy Sam Cogen in a tight race for the Democratic nomination that remained undecided for a week after the primary.

The sheriff’s office serves the courts in the city, with deputies protecting court buildings and staff. Deputies also deliver legal paperwork, such as eviction notices and orders to appear in court.

Anderson’s campaign and city staffs overlapped for years. The longtime campaign treasurer was Henry Martin, Anderson’s chief deputy. William Matthews, a deputy sheriff major who retired this year, was the campaign chairman. Both have held the positions with the campaign since 2003.

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Two checks, one for $10,000 and another for $9,000, were written by the campaign to Martin in July for poll workers and field expenses. Details on the distribution of that money were not provided.

Neither Martin nor Matthews responded to requests for comment.

A half dozen employees from the sheriff’s office did regular campaign work for Anderson. Jacqueline Ware, Anderson’s executive assistant, was paid $1,200 this cycle for data entry. Jonathan Coby, a deputy sheriff, received $1,000 to post campaign signs. Hikeem Crampton, director of district court for the sheriff’s office, also was paid $1,000 to put up signs.

Payments span multiple years and campaign cycles. In 2018, when Anderson faced challengers in both the primary and the general election, his campaign paid $23,000 for work from sheriff’s office employees. Tasks included data entry, putting up signs, and coordinating payments and meals for campaign staff.

The wife of Maj. Jason Gruzs, Mary Ann Gruzs, earned $7,200 for “web development” for the campaign. Jason Gruzs was also a donor.

Financial support for Anderson’s campaign was widespread among his roughly 200-member staff. At least 17 staffers, including lieutenants, deputy sheriffs and an administrative aide, donated this year in amounts ranging from $50 to $4,070, records show. An additional 29 staff members bought tickets to Anderson’s fundraisers.

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Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs, said paying city employees for campaign work can put them in a difficult position. Public employees must be mindful of using personal computers or phones for campaign work, rather than city equipment. Work must be done when employees are off the clock, which can be hard to delineate, he said.

Staffers also can feel pressured to participate in a superior’s campaign either as an employee or a donor out of fear of losing their jobs, Hartley said.

“Think about all of the possibilities here that can go wrong,” he said. “You might say: ‘You’re not going to get a promotion.’ Or maybe: ‘You’re first in line for a promotion, but I want to see your support.’ And then a $1,000 check comes in.”

Tapp-Harper said employees receive a memo telling them that all campaign work is voluntary.

Dedie likened the operation to a patronage system.

“When you hire people on the staff, and they know your reelection and your job depends on those extra things, they’re going to do those extra things,” Dedie said. “You may not want to do it. You may have ethical concerns. But you’re going to do whatever you have to do to keep your job.”

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Tapp-Harper provided a copy of a policy that bars employees of the office from using their official position to endorse a political candidate or from being photographed or appearing in uniform for campaign purposes. The policy also bars employees from displaying or distributing campaign paraphernalia while on duty.

“If something is brought to our attention, obviously, we investigate it,” Tapp-Harper said.

Hartley said he would advise any official using staff for campaign work to first seek an opinion from an ethics board. It’s not clear whether Anderson has ever sought such advice; Tapp-Harper said she did not know whether he had.

“People who do it right and as ethically as possible really have a wall there, so they’re not talking about campaign stuff when they’re doing business of the public,” Hartley said.

Baltimore’s ethics ordinance restricts outside employment for city employees, barring employment with groups controlled by their agency or anyone who has a contract with the city. Employees also are banned from “any employment relationship that would impair the impartiality and independent judgment of the public servant.” The ordinance does not define “employment.”

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“The important thing is city time and city resources are not implicated,” said Chris Amberger, the city’s ethics director, of the city’s secondary employment policy. Amberger is not authorized to speak about specific city employees.

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City employees also are required to file annual ethics disclosures listing “each place of compensated employment.”

However, employees of the sheriff’s office are not governed by the city’s ethics ordinance, Amberger said. Although they are paid by the city of Baltimore, the office is considered a quasi-governmental entity within the state judiciary, he said.

As such, sheriff’s office employees are governed by the state’s ethics ordinance, which is nearly identical to the city’s and also restricts secondary employment. Employees are not, however, required to submit state ethics disclosures, said Jennifer Allgair, executive director of the Maryland State Ethics Commission. Only the sheriff must do so.

Baltimore City Council members endorse sheriff candidate Sam Cogen in front of Baltimore City Hall.

Cogen, who defeated Anderson in the primary, said he plans to do away with the practice of accepting campaign donations from staff, although he acknowledged he donated to Anderson in the past. Records show Cogen donating as recently as 2019.

While Cogen accepted donations from several employees of the sheriff’s office during his campaign, he said he told union officials recently that he won’t accept staff donations moving forward. Employees also will be barred from fundraisers, he said.

“We want to avoid the perception of political patronage,” Cogen said.


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