Armed with $1.1 million in donations, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s political lobbying organization on Friday announced it would begin airing negative television ads against Democrats in the General Assembly over crime and taxes.
One spot advocates for the legislature to pass the Republican governor’s crime legislation amid a dispute with Democratic lawmakers over the effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences.
The other opposes a large expansion of the state sales tax, proposed by some House of Delegates Democrats as a way to raise $2.6 billion annually to pay for improvements to public education proposed by the Kirwan Commission.
The Change Maryland Action Fund is paying for the ads after raising $1.1 million in 2019 from 1,600 donors, said David Weinman, spokesman for the political lobbying group. Weinman released a list of the donors, but did not respond to questions about how much money the organization was spending on ads.
Among those donating $25,000 each to the governor’s political lobbying organization were: Port Covington developer Marc Weller, former T. Rowe Price Group Inc. Chairman Brian Rogers, insurance executive Howard Perlow, Harbor East developer Bill Paterakis and Sinclair Broadcast Group executive Fred Smith.
Other businessmen giving $25,000 each were: Tim Regan, CEO of The Whiting-Turner Contracting Co.; Kenneth Bajaj, president of Digital Management LLC; Joel Meisel, CEO of Meisel Holdings; Hugo DeCesaris, regional president of K. Hovnanian Cos.; Gary Stewart, CEO of York Building Products, and Chris Larsen, CEO of Halmer International LLC.
“The overwhelming majority of Marylanders are demanding that the legislature reject massive tax hikes and finally pass Governor Hogan’s bills to take violent criminals off Baltimore’s streets,” Weinman said in statement. “We will keep fighting to make sure their voices are heard.”
The ads came as the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee advanced two ideas from Hogan’s anti-crime package ― requiring an annual report on individual judges and the sentences they hand down and toughening penalties for witness intimidation ― by amending similar bills sponsored by Democratic Montgomery County Sen. Susan C. Lee.
However, Sen. William C. Smith Jr., the new chairman of the committee, said lawmakers are unlikely to approve Hogan’s priority this session, the Violent Firearms Offender Act, because it contains six mandatory minimum sentences.
“The crime in Baltimore City and throughout our state cannot and will not be solved through the implementation of new mandatory minimums,” Smith said. "Today, our committee passed out the first package of legislation aimed at taking a comprehensive approach to address both the immediate and long-term contributing factors to the crime crisis.”
Smith said his committee would consider more anti-crime bills next week.
Hogan has been sparring with the legislature for days over crime and taxes. Last week, the governor singled out Smith for criticism and suggested he should step down from his leadership post if he doesn’t pass Hogan’s legislation.
Senate President Bill Ferguson has taken exception to governor’s remarks.
“I’m disappointed that these ads are starting the same day that the Judicial Proceedings Committee voted out two of the governor’s core concepts on crime,” said Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat.
Ferguson and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones sent a request Friday to the state’s Department of Legislative Services, seeking data about the Hogan administration’s effectiveness in preventing crime. They asked for an accounting of all murder and shooting suspects in Baltimore who were under the supervision of state parole and probation staff when they allegedly committed their crimes ― and what steps the Hogan administration took to oversee the suspects.
Baltimore has suffered from more than 300 homicides five years in a row. More than 40 people have been killed in the city so far this year.
The governor also has railed against a bill backed by some Democratic leaders in the House to expand the sales tax. Supporters say it would raise the billions of dollars needed to improve public schools while having a minimal impact on most Maryland families. Under the bill, the sales tax rate would drop from 6% to 5%, but the tax would apply to a vastly broader range of business and service transactions.
The estimated $2.6 billion per year the expanded sales tax would generate would be earmarked to pay for school improvements recommended by the Kirwan Commission, such as increased teacher pay, expanded prekindergarten and more support for schools in low-income neighborhoods. Lawmakers have spent the first half of the 90-day General Assembly session weighing proposals for how to raise money for the recommendations.
The sales tax bill has a hearing Monday afternoon before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Hogan has blasted the proposal, saying it would “destroy” the state’s economy.
The governor’s political lobbying arms ― Change Maryland Inc. and Change Maryland Action Fund ― are not technically functions of his individual campaign committee. The Change Maryland groups said last year that they were trying to raise $2 million to advance Hogan’s political agenda.
In October, Hogan’s organizations held a fundraiser at Maryland Live Casino. Expenditures forms show Change Maryland paid $28,700 to use the space.