By the end of January, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh had amassed nearly $1 million in her bid to be elected to a second term — and there was no candidate yet running against her.
Since then, news broke of the sale of $800,000 worth of her “Healthy Holly” books, and she has been engulfed by spreading federal and state criminal investigations into her business dealings. Calls for her to resign have come from the City Council, state legislators, the governor and the business community.
Now, some donors say they would like their money back and campaign officials say they are exploring how they could issue refunds.
“I have requested the Committee to Retain Catherine E. Pugh return my contribution to her campaign in full,” said former state Del. Connie DeJuliis of Baltimore County, who gave $3,000 to Pugh in 2016 for her successful run and $2,000 for a recent fundraiser. “I am disappointed in the mayor’s lack of judgment, to say nothing of her lack of integrity.”
Pugh’s campaign manager, Steven Sibel, said 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.”
By Monday afternoon, the campaign had disabled the “donate” button on her website. Later Monday, the site was not functional.
In an email to a donor, treasurer Eileen Thompson said the Pugh campaign “has retained a law firm to provide counsel as to our options for dealing with this situation.” Thompson wrote that the campaign is in discussions with the board of elections and will be communicating with all donors “at a future date.”
State law gives Pugh three options for the money if she decides not to run for another term.
She can keep her money for up to eight years, in case she wants to run again.
If she decides to wind down her campaign, she must first pay off all her debts and expenses, said Jared DeMarinis, campaign finance director at the Maryland State Board of Elections. At that point, she can either give back all the contributions to donors on a prorated basis or give out the money to a variety of organizations, including the state party, the Baltimore City Central Committee or Maryland’s Fair Campaign Finance Fund, which provides public financing.
What she can’t do with the money is pay her lawyers’ fees or spend it on herself.
“At this point I haven’t finalized my decision,” said Alan R. Ingraham, a donor and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors; however, he said, he was “leaning” toward asking for his thousands of dollars of donations back. Between last year and this year, he has donated $4,972 to Pugh’s campaign.
James DeGraffenreidt, a Baltimore resident and former utilities executive, is sure he would like a refund. Since Pugh was elected mayor, he has donated $2,000 to her campaign. He said he doesn’t want the campaign acting as his “intermediary” in deciding where the money will go.
“They should send me a check back,” DeGraffenreidt said.
Thomas Kelso, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he, too, would like his donations to Pugh returned. He said he donated $1,000 in December.
“If she is done with her political career, I would like for my money to be returned,” Kelso said. He, like DeGraffenreidt, wants to determine for himself how the money will be used. “I do not want her deciding which candidates to distribute it to. I would like the money returned to me and I’ll figure out where it should go.”
Martin Knott, a businessman and donor, wants the mayor to resign. He said he believes people are “entitled to get their money back for any reason,” but particularly given the circumstances, he believes it is understandable for donors to want their contributions returned.
Knott said his contribution was not large, and he said he has no idea whether he could even get his money back because it was not donated recently.
“Everyone makes bad investments. Maybe I made a bad investment,” said Knott, adding that Pugh is still “entitled to her day in court.”
Many of these contributors and others The Baltimore Sun interviewed in recent days expressed disappointment and even anger about the mayor’s actions and hopes she will resign.