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Progressive Maryland files complaint against super PAC backing Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller

A nonprofit advocacy group has filed an ethics complaint with the Maryland elections board, alleging campaign finance violations by a super PAC that is backing Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller.
A nonprofit advocacy group has filed an ethics complaint with the Maryland elections board, alleging campaign finance violations by a super PAC that is backing Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller.(Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

A nonprofit advocacy group has filed an ethics complaint with the Maryland elections board, alleging campaign finance violations by a super PAC that is backing Baltimore mayoral candidate Mary Miller.

The Citizens for Ethical Progressive Leadership PAC was established April 30, state records show, and is supporting Miller, a former U.S. Treasury official and T. Rowe Price executive.

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The group recently circulated a memo describing a poll by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group of 500 likely Democratic primary voters, conducted April 13-16.

Progressive Maryland, which endorsed City Council President Brandon Scott in the June 2 mayoral primary, filed a complaint Monday saying the date of the poll signaled a campaign finance violation.

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“The failure of the super PAC, its chairperson and treasurer to register with the Board of Elections until two weeks after it had apparently expended funds is a clear violation of the Maryland election law finance filing requirements and regulations," the complaint reads.

Jared DeMarinis, director of the election board’s candidacy and campaign finance division, said the board will review the complaint and make a determination.

He said he could not comment on any specific complaint.

But he said that super political action committees are required to register with the state elections board once they spend $5,000 or more. And once they spend $10,000 or more, he said, they must file a report within 48 hours of crossing that threshold.

Polls can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Martin G. Knott Jr., the super PAC’s treasurer, said he commissioned the poll to “understand the state of the race before going through the process of setting up a PAC and collecting money from people to support it.” When the numbers looked good for Miller, he proceeded.

He said the PAC tried to register April 22 with the state board, but ran into challenges related to closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Once the PAC was approved, the poll was provided to the PAC for its use, as clearly allowed under the law. The PAC did not receive any contributions or spend any money until it was set up and approved by the SBE,” he wrote in an email, adding that he didn’t have to be registered with a PAC to conduct a poll.

Christianne Marguerite, an organizer at Progressive Maryland, said in a statement that it’s “unacceptable for a multi-millionaire candidate, who has already spent millions on her own campaign, to be supported by a dark-money group."

Miller put more than $1.5 million of her own money into her campaign, funding a robust media strategy that’s kept her on voters’ screens during a bizarre election season upended by the pandemic.

Asked about the complaint, a Miller spokeswoman said, “We simply do not know enough information about this matter.” Campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with super PACs.

“We remain focused on our strategy of spreading Mary’s message across the city, which is working as we continue to be the only candidate with momentum, demonstrating strong appeal and enthusiasm,” Colleen Mattingly said in a statement.

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Miller faced her own finance-related complaint, too. The state Board of Elections is reviewing a complaint that a Baltimore real estate agent filed with the board in late April, alleging Miller bought signs, hired staff and otherwise incurred “significant” campaign expenses before officially declaring her candidacy with the state.

A Miller campaign spokeswoman said the allegations in that complaint were addressed last week with the candidate’s financial disclosure filing.

The supporters of several other Baltimore mayoral candidates have also formed super PACs.

The latest campaign filings show former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah has the support of one called “A Safer, Stronger Baltimore PAC.” That committee received a $100,000 contribution from Texas billionaire John Arnold, who is funding flying surveillance planes over the city to gather potential evidence of crimes for the Baltimore Police Department

Super PACs have also formed to support Vignarajah, current Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and former Mayor Sheila Dixon. Of those, only Vignarajah’s supporters reported cash on hand.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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