The Maryland Board of Elections determined Republican Larry Hogan broke a campaign finance rule, but the panel agreed Thursday to waive the fine associated with the minor infraction.
Elections officials cleared Hogan of wrongdoing in two of three charges leveled against him by the Maryland Democratic Party this summer. In the third charge, officials determined Hogan violated campaign-finance rules by not paying his advocacy group, Change Maryland, for a poll the group sold to his campaign.
Hogan's campaign for governor used the poll during the primary contest, suggesting in a May press release that Hogan was gaining support in a potential match-up with Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown. But when the campaign purchased all of the assets of Change Maryland — including the Sept. 2013 poll it referenced in May — Hogan's campaign incorrectly decided the poll had no cash value, elections officials determined.
Hogan asked that the $50 fine for a "non-willful failure" to include an in-kind contribution be waived, and the board agreed to do so.
"We thought all along it was politically motivated, and there was nothing to this," Hogan's campaign spokesman Adam Dubitsky said.
The board dismissed two other contentions by state Democrats that Hogan distributed campaign materials without the proper authority line and improperly converted his Change Maryland organization into a political campaign. In July, the board dismissed a separate complaint against Hogan — this one filed by his Republican rivals—- that also suggested the purchase of Change Maryland was in appropriate.
Acrimony and allegations of misdeeds have marked by both sides of the gubernatorial contest to succeed Gov. Martin O'Malley. Thursday's ruling resolves just one of the three still-outstanding elections complaints the dueling candidates have filed against each other.
The Maryland Democratic Party has also alleged Hogan did not properly account for the purchase of his campaign bus. Republicans, meanwhile, alleged Democratic nominee Anthony G. Brown illegally shared fundraising consultants between his campaign and a political action committee that backs his candidacy.
Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Jared Smith said in an email that, "despite all of his finger-pointing and accusations, Larry Hogan is the only candidate who has been found to have broken election law."
Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the elections board, said Thursday that his investigations into the complaints may not be completed before the Nov. 4 general election. The board tentatively agreed to discuss his preliminary findings during a closed session at its October meeting.
Early voting in the governor's race begins in less than month, on Oct. 23.