A political action committee created with the intention to boost one Baltimore mayoral candidate and oppose another is playing an outsize role in the upcoming election — even now that it’s shutting down.
The Citizens for Ethical Progressive Leadership PAC announced plans to cease operations Thursday, after a leaked email revealed a strategy to target white voters in a majority-black city.
The group was supporting former T. Rowe Price executive and U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller and opposing former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah. According to the email, the PAC also had plans to run negative material against City Council President Brandon Scott.
PACs are allowed to spend money in support of candidates, but cannot legally coordinate with campaigns.
“Outside PACs can really help with getting the message out," said Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs. Still, as in this scenario, “there are times an outside PAC goes too far and it can blow up in their face.”
Miller’s rivals have latched onto the issue and are keeping it front-and-center. Vignarajah held a press conference Thursday to demand the PAC shut down and condemn the idea of specifically pursuing white voters. Both Scott and former Mayor Sheila Dixon held virtual unity rallies Friday.
Baltimore’s Democratic primary for mayor has spawned four PACs. Here’s who they are, how much they’ve raised and what they’re spending on the race.
Citizens for Ethical Progressive Leadership
The PAC was established late last month and has raised much of its money from Baltimore’s financial industry, including executives at Miller’s former employer. It announced plans to cease operations Thursday, but is still considered active by the state elections board. It filed a new disclosure form Friday.
Donors include former Legg Mason Chairman and CEO Mark Fetting, Continental Realty Corp. Co-Chairman John Luetkemeyer and former T. Rowe Vice Chairman James Riepe and Chairman Brian Rogers. The treasurer was Martin G. Knott Jr., the former national finance chairman for former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s unsuccessful run in 2016 for the Democratic nomination for president.
The PAC’s latest financial disclosure form, filed May 15 with the state election board, showed the group raised more than $120,000, and spent nearly half of that on ads, mailers and polling. It also incurred about $10,000 in debt. It was still receiving donations Friday, state forms show.
As of this week, the PAC had already taken out ads and mailers opposing Vignarajah and citing a September traffic stop where Vignarajah asked an officer to turn off his body camera. The ads also included references to Dixon, who was driven from office a decade ago in a public corruption case.
Miller said she was outraged that an outside group “caused unnecessary divisiveness in this race,” and called the PAC’s decision to cease operations the right one.
The Truth in Politics
This PAC is backing backing Dixon.
So far, the PAC has raised $20,000, according to the latest disclosure form. The money comes from P & J Contracting Company and R. E. Harrington Plumbing, Heating & Utilities, prominent black contractors in the city. The group is chaired by lawyer Robert Dashiell.
Dixon served as the marketing director of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association.
Maryland Policy & Politics
The PAC has spent more than $4,000 so far on media to promote Dixon.
A Safer, Stronger Baltimore
This is a PAC backing Vignarajah.
The entirety of its $100,000 bankroll comes from Texas billionaire John Arnold, who is funding a controversial pilot program to fly surveillance planes over Baltimore seeking to record evidence of crimes. Vignarajah also supports the surveillance planes as part of his crime policy.
The PAC had not reported any expenditures as of April 28.
Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance PAC
This group supports Scott for mayor.
The PAC has not filed a financial disclosure form since January, though it plans to update state records this week. The group has begun running some online ads to promote Scott’s candidacy.
Future of Baltimore
This PAC was formed to oppose Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young. The PAC has reported no contributions or expenditures.