Korean Society of Baltimore seeks return of $60K in campaign contributions members made to Pugh

Democrat Catherine Pugh is shown in this 2016 file photo as a candidate for mayor of Baltimore.
Democrat Catherine Pugh is shown in this 2016 file photo as a candidate for mayor of Baltimore.(Kim Hairston / The Baltimore Sun)

The leaders of the Korean Society of Baltimore said Wednesday they are seeking the return of more than $60,000 in contributions their members made to former Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh’s re-election campaign.

Paul Kwong-Yong Lee, president of the organization, wrote a letter to Pugh’s campaign chairman, Steve Sibel, “asking for our donations back.” Also signing the letter was Duk-Choon Kim, the society’s chairman.


“We own and operate hundreds of small businesses all across Baltimore. We have raised our families in and around Baltimore for decades. Ms. Pugh’s campaign should not choose where our money goes. We should,” the letter stated.

The letter asks for more than $60,000 in campaign donations to be returned by June 6.


Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned Thursday, apologizing for the harm she has caused to the city’s image amid a growing scandal over her sales of a self-published children’s book series.

The society’s leaders say they plan to give the money instead to 2020 Democratic mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah.

Pugh had nearly $1 million in her campaign account as of her most recent filing in January.

Pugh resigned in May, apologizing for the harm she caused to the city’s image amid a scandal over her sales of a self-published children’s book series. Her resignation came amid a public outcry over her sale of hundreds of thousands of dollars of her “Healthy Holly” books to organizations that do business with the city and to the University of Maryland Medical System, where she was on the board. Those deals were revealed in a series of articles in The Baltimore Sun that began March 13.

Other Pugh donors asked weeks ago for the campaign to return their donations. Sibel, who is a partner at the real estate development firm Caves Valley Partners, said in April that Pugh’s campaign was “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.”

After repeatedly drawing a link between crime and corner liquor stores in some of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, Mayor Catherine Pugh held a fundraiser with Korean-American shop owners that netted her campaign more than $20,000.

Sibel did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

State law gives Pugh options for what she can do with unspent campaign funds.

The former mayor can keep her campaign money for up to eight years, in case she wants to seek office again.

If she decides not to run again, she must first pay off debts and expenses. She can then return any remaining money to donors on a prorated basis, or give it to a variety of organizations, including the state Democratic Party, the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee or Maryland’s Fair Campaign Finance Fund, which provides public financing to candidates.

She can’t spend the money on herself or on fees for lawyers.

The letter from the Korean Society of Baltimore states the organization’s members now back Vignarajah — a former prosecutor and one of a handful of declared candidates in the race for mayor — because he knows “the future of Baltimore depends on small businesses and hardworking immigrants like us.”

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