Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, who is awaiting sentencing on federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges, still has nearly $1 million in her campaign account, according to the latest finance report.
That’s despite substantial bills from campaign attorneys and consultants hired in the wake of the scandal last year surrounding Pugh’s sales of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books, and her campaign refunding contributions from executives at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, one of the companies that purchased the books.
Other individual donors who have requested refunds from the former mayor have not received them, the report shows.
Pugh resigned in early May after the FBI raided her homes and City Hall office following reporting by The Baltimore Sun that she profited from selling the self-published books to CareFirst, Kaiser Permanente and several other entities with business before the city, as well as the University of Maryland Medical System, where she sat on the board.
Through Jan. 8, her campaign reported a balance of $915,677 — down from $968,790 at the same time last year.
Pugh’s campaign manager, Steven Sibel, did not respond to requests for comment.
The slight decline in funds was due in part to more than $57,000 in fees paid to Zuckerman Spaeder, a local law firm representing Pugh’s campaign, and nearly $70,000 paid to MD Strategic Consulting, a firm that offers a range of consulting services.
Gregg Bernstein, a partner at the law firm who is representing the campaign, declined to comment Wednesday. Matthew Newcomer, the consulting firm’s chief financial officer, said he could not immediately answer questions about the arrangement.
The Pugh campaign returned about a dozen donations, totaling nearly $2,000, on April 1 — the day she announced she was taking medical leave for pneumonia in the midst of the “Healthy Holly” scandal, and the day The Sun first reported that CareFirst was among her book purchasers.
At least 10 names on the list of donors who received refunds match those of CareFirst executives.
Michael Sullivan, a CareFirst spokesman, said the contributions had been made in advance of a planned event with Pugh, and were returned after the event was canceled.
Contributions to Pugh’s campaign dropped off sharply in March, with only a handful occurring in April and just a couple — the last of the year — in May.
After the scandal surrounding Pugh’s book sales broke, some donors requested their money back, and Sibel said at the time that the campaign committee “is reviewing the options provided under the law regarding campaign contributions, and it will be making a determination in the near future as to whether and how funds may be distributed.”
However, save for the CareFirst officials, the campaign had not returned donations to individual donors as of Jan. 8, the last day covered by the financial reporting period. Wednesday was the deadline for filing the reports.
Treasurer Eileen Thompson wrote in an email to a donor that the campaign “has retained a law firm to provide counsel as to our options for dealing with this situation.”
Zuckerman Spaeder represents Pugh’s campaign in its effort to navigate the many legal ramifications of her criminal case and resignation of her political office. The firm does not represent her in her criminal case.
Under state campaign finance laws, campaigns are allowed to spend money “to pay for legal costs associated with an investigation or criminal proceeding that has a direct connection with the individual’s candidacy.”
Campaigns cannot use campaign funds “for legal or other expenses related to investigations or court proceedings that do not have a direct connection with the candidacy,” according to guidance from the Maryland State Board of Elections.
“For example, investigations or charges involving misconduct in an individual’s employment or public office are not campaign-related, even if the charges first come to light as a result of the individual’s decision to run for elected office. Non-campaign-related legal costs are considered ‘personal’ expenses for purposes of the campaign finance laws,” the board advises.
Steve Silverman, Pugh’s criminal attorney, said Wednesday that his firm, Silverman Thompson, "has not received one cent from her campaign account up to date, even though we are entitled to receive compensation for defense costs related to her campaign.”