Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has filed her latest state ethics disclosure, reporting no gifts to a legal defense fund established for her and her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby.
The fund, which opened for donations in mid-2021, was created so the power couple could defend themselves against a federal criminal tax investigation. Prominent supporters and community leaders have encouraged contributions, posting on Facebook and appearing at news conferences.
But whether anyone has donated remains a mystery.
Mosby’s state ethics disclosure — specifically a section of it dealing with gifts — could have been one of a few windows into such fundraising. The submitted form should denote any donations from several key types of people outlined by state regulations.
Specifically, elected officials must disclose on their annual ethics forms gifts from people or entities who do business with the state, those regulated by the state and registered lobbyists. State ethics law requires listing gifts worth more than $20. Two or more gifts with a cumulative value of $100 from one person or entity also must be disclosed.
A. Scott Bolden, Mosby’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment. The chair of the State Ethics Commission declined to comment and referred questions to the commission’s general counsel, who did not respond to a request for comment.
After a hearing Thursday, Mosby said the legal fight, still in the pretrial stage, already has been costly.
“This is where we are: hundred of thousands of dollars of debt in attorneys’ fees, fighting a battle,” she said, speaking to the media outside Baltimore’s federal courthouse.
A 1993 opinion from the Maryland State Ethics Commission outlined the rules as they relate to legal defense funds, as did as a 2017 ethics commission guideline on gifts.
The commission issued the 1993 opinion at the request of the St. Mary’s County sheriff at the time. He wanted to solicit donations to support a $1.5 million defamation lawsuit against a weekly newspaper in Southern Maryland. The ethics commission concluded his fund should be subject to “significant constraints” because donations would be considered gifts under state law.
High-profile supporters of the Mosbys have promoted the couple’s legal defense fund. City defense attorney Warren Brown posted on Facebook encouraging donations. Willie Flowers, president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference, appeared at a news conference in October and encouraged donations. Flowers said the civil rights organization would give money to the fund.
“We plan to give as much as possible,” he said at the time.
Marilyn Mosby’s ethics disclosure Wednesday came the day before the state’s attorney filed to seek the Democratic nomination to run for a third four-year term, according to state records. Nick Mosby’s ethics disclosure is not due until Jan. 30, 2023.
While neither of the Mosbys has been charged with tax crimes, Marilyn Mosby was federally indicted in January on two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements on loan applications to buy two properties in Florida: an eight-bedroom house near Disney World and a condo on the state’s Gulf Coast. Nick Mosby has not been charged with anything.
Federal prosecutors say Mosby perjured herself by falsely claiming financial hardship because of the coronavirus to make early, penalty-free withdrawals from her city retirement savings under the federal CARES Act. They also accused her of failing to disclose a federal tax lien on a mortgage application for one property and claiming the house near Orlando as a second home to secure lower interest rates when she had lined up a company to operate it as a rental.
Mosby maintains she’s innocent, and says she intends to clear her name at a trial scheduled for Sept. 19.
Maryland Policy & Politics
The state’s attorney came under scrutiny at the beginning of the year when her campaign finance report showed she directed campaign funds to the law firm of her criminal defense lawyer, Bolden. However, the Maryland State Board of Elections found she provided ample documentation to support the expenses in question and their connection to her candidacy.
During its inquiry into the couple’s campaign spending, the State Board of Elections asked about the legal defense fund. Attorney James J. Temple, who responded for the couple, said that as of March 1, “there have been no payments to any law firm hired by the candidate or the committee by any legal defense fund.” Temple did not say whether the fund had garnered any donations.
The defense fund website prompts visitors to consider donations of $10, $50, $100, $250, $500 or $1,000.
“Generally speaking, moneys given to an elected official must be considered for disclosure under state ethics laws,” said Bruce L. Marcus, a Greenbelt defense attorney who in 2012 chaired a panel established by the legislature to recommend changes to Maryland’s campaign finance laws.
Based on the 1993 opinion of the state ethics commission, donations to a legal defense fund are strictly regulated. State law bans almost all gifts from “controlled donors,” people or businesses who do work with an official’s agency, are regulated by that agency, or have “private interests that can be impacted by an official’s performance of his duties.”
In the case of the former sheriff, the commission said controlled donors would include people with matters pending before the sheriff’s office, people who provide services or materials to the office, or attorneys, inmates or others in the criminal justice system. It is unclear whether these restrictions would apply in Mosby’s case to bar her from accepting legal defense fund donations from other lawyers in Baltimore, such as defense attorneys who represent people prosecuted by her office.
Mosby’s ethics form did describe one gift in 2021: $971.90 in expenses related to a conference in Maine. Mosby attended the Black Women Lead retreat, paid for by the Vera Institute of Justice, an organization that advocates for criminal justice reform. Mosby’s disclosure said she participated in discussions about “the difficulties and struggles that are unique to Black women leaders in our Country in the field of criminal justice and as elected Black women leaders.”